One year after his father died and the mourning clothes removed at his country home in Nnewi, Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Jr) has opened up to the media about his family and late father, Ikemba Nnewi, who died on November 26, 2011, in a London hospital after a brief illness.
Ojukwu (Jr), who assumed the position of Diokpala (first son) in the family, told Sunday Sun exclusively in this interview all he wanted to say about his father’s Will, life without his father, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) crisis, and the Igbo leadership question, among other issues.
He spoke with DAVID ONWUCHEKWA in his home at Nnewi. Excerpts…
It’s one year since your father died, how is life with you and the entire Ojukwu family?
It has not been easy, but I have no choice than to carry on, to carry everybody along. My father was larger than life. Of course, when I saw him lying lifeless, it became obvious to me that I had suffered a great loss and you know ours is a big family with big challenges. I pray God will give me the wisdom to bring peace and move the family forward. Like I said, a big vacuum has been created because my father was larger than life.
During the recent mass to mark the one year of his demise we had expected a large turnout of dignitaries, particularly Igbo leaders, but we didn’t see much of them. What happened?
No, no. I think there has been some confusion about what happened that day. That day was not my father’s memorial service. The family was just removing the mourning clothes, which we agreed we would do one year after his death.
We will still do a memorial service in March next year, a year after his burial. It was not supposed to be a public event.
Immediately after the burial of your father there was an uproar in your family over the control of his companies and property, some of them started by your grandfather, Sir Louis. Have those issues been resolved?
No, these issues have not been resolved. First of all, it was inappropriate for such matter to have cropped up when one year had not even elapsed after my father’s death. I think my father deserves that respect. It was totally inappropriate for any discussion to be raised about that from any quarter.
Now that we have observed one year in his honour, some of these issues can be addressed.
In terms of property, the properties being discussed in the newspapers are Ojukwu Transport Company Limited properties. Sir Odumegwu left behind certain things under his company, which has directors, and my father was one of them. So, the properties do not belong to any particular individual. They don’t belong to my father or any other person. They belong to Ojukwu Transport Company Limited.
So, in terms of inheritance, those properties or assets that belong to Ojukwu Transport Company Limited are naturally not something that can be bequeathed to anybody. The properties in question do not belong to my father. They belong to the transport company and as such my father could not bequeath them to anybody.
The discussions should be about who are the members of Ojukwu Transport Company Limited, who are the directors, not about the properties because they belong to the company.
And remember that these properties were won through court judgment. There was a judgment that stated clearly who the properties were handed over to.
Do you see the Will bringing back lasting peace in your family?
Lasting peace is something everybody wishes for. Whether or not it can be achieved by reading the Will, I don’t know. By the way, I have not been invited or got any notice concerning reading of the Will. It is just a rumour I hear from journalists. I have not received any notice concerning reading of any Will.
But in any case, I know the lawyers will handle that at the appropriate time. I don’t want to pre-empt anything because of the rumour making the rounds. There is an office that handles such matters when someone passes on. It is for them to invite family members in conjunction with the family lawyers. I have not received any invitation and the family lawyers have not called me. When the time comes I will attend or send representatives. When we see what is written there, we will know whether it is the Will of my father. If there is any problem, then we will handle it the proper way. I know the Will was written many years ago and has been secured by the family lawyer, the one we know and recognize. I don’t know this other Will people are talking about, where it is coming from, whether it is my father’s Will or not, but until we see it.
Lasting peace is not tied to a Will being read. Peace among people is determined by their attitude towards one another. Family problem comes from differences among individuals. I don’t know why people talk about this Will as if it is something that is going to change one’s attitude. When we talk about property and how to share it, it won’t change the attitude of people. What is important is how to deal with one another in a lovely and friendly manner, forgive each other when we offend each other and find a way to live with each other. It has absolutely nothing to do with reading of the Will.
The death of your father left a huge vacuum in the Igbo nation. Do you think this vacuum would be filled soonest?
The struggles in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) right now and all these things, you know, means we cannot be talking about filling the vacuum now, until it is sorted out, that is, the issues with the governor, chairman of the party, and other major stakeholders. All these things should be addressed first. It is a pity that this matter has dragged to this extent. There have been calls for negotiations and discussions to foster peace. If you want to make peace, you should belong to neither side. This peace process should not be open to too many people. I call on the warring parties to find a way of bringing to an end their differences in the interest of the party, and to move it forward. If this is not done quickly, we are going to leave a gap and allow other parties to take over where we may have already captured.
I was happy to see Governor Peter Obi and Chief Victor Umeh during the one year end of mourning, and Governor Rochas Okorocha, though Governor Okorocha sent his Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and explained to the family why he was absent. It is an indication that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. This crisis is not what my father would have wished. It is just like a big family where the head of the house has gone and all his children begin to run amok. I think we will find a way to resolve it, we don’t have any other option.
But, don’t you think there is need to restructure the party?
The party is a living thing, something that will always change. So, when you say restructure, I don’t know what you mean. But whether there should be changes, including change of leadership, because that’s where you are heading to, there are ways those things are done. As long as things are being done the right way and not one side trying to dominate the other, or impose their ideas on the other, there is no problem with that. A governor will not be a governor forever, and a chairman will not be a chairman forever, but the party remains, if not forever, at least, for a very long time. The actors in the crisis should understand that they are temporary leaders or temporary servants and should put the people first.
There will always be change within a party so long as it takes normal process. If party officials are elected and the time comes for another election and all the rules and regulations are adhered to, there will be no problem. The problem happens when, perhaps, there are hitches in the process or somebody is trying to effect a change without going through due process. Some of these things crop up may be because of issues among individuals.
It needs to be remembered that people such as my father, not just him alone, fought and many lost their lives for Ndigbo, for instance, and it is our responsibility to ensure that APGA is made the vehicle through which we will make sure that Ndigbo remain politically relevant in the comity of the Nigerian nation.
APGA controls two South East states and we are supposed to advance to capture more, but if we are engulfed in in-fighting, it will be difficult to achieve that, which will create an opportunity for other political parties to take advantage of and take over the grounds we have already captured.
Sometime this year you were given a chieftaincy title, Ikemba II, at your maternal home. Does that mean you are going to play all the leadership roles of your late father?
I find it funny when people talk about leadership, Igbo leadership. You don’t call yourself a leader. I have been saying this and I will continue to say it. What you do is live by example and people will say, yes, you are worthy to lead them in one sphere or the other, or lead them all together. My father didn’t wake up one day and made himself a leader. My father risked his life, put in his money, stood up and defended the cause and interest of Ndigbo. That was how he became a leader. And that is why they loved him. And in times of trouble, in times of crisis everybody looked up to him. That’s why they loved him.
So, I reject the idea that because you are his son and because, maybe he gave you his title; that makes you an Igbo leader. I don’t expect that because I’m Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Jr), Ikemba II, and automatically everything is going to come to me. I have to earn the respect by taking up challenges, making a difference in the lives of people. That is how it begins.
The Federal Government gave your father a state burial, what else do you think the government should do to make him happy, particularly now that we are doing constitution review?
One of the main things I think, maybe I’m biased, because he was my father, is that he deserved an honour, the kind given to Martin Luther King in America for the role he played in this country in defence of people’s right. Again, there is need to introduce literature about the life of my father into the school system for posterity.
You know, what happens is that when you lose the war, history will be one-sided. Perhaps, some institutions should be renamed after him.
How is your relationship with your other siblings?
We have a good relationship. We don’t have any issues. My father was the leader of the family and anybody my father said was his child would be accepted as such.
You are not the first son of your father, how come you play the role of the first son?
In Igbo culture, the father has the right to determine who is Diokpala (first son), it is as simple as that. And my father had done so. And I’m the chosen one.
•This interview was conducted before the Will was read.