News / Africa

Former Nigerian Leader Pays Tribute to Late Secessionist Ojukwu

Yakubo Gowon, who was head of state during the Biafran war, says he and Ojukwu became reconciled friends to move Nigeria forward

Lieutenant Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, then military governor of East Nigeria, center, is pictured addressing a press conference at the state house in Engu, Nigeria, in this May, 1967 file photo.
Lieutenant Colonel C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, then military governor of East Nigeria, center, is pictured addressing a press conference at the state house in Engu, Nigeria, in this May, 1967 file photo.

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James Butty

Former Nigerian head of state General Yakubo Gowon, in power during the three-year civil war in Biafra, has expressed sadness over the death of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the secessionist state.

Ojukwu died Saturday in a London hospital after a protracted illness.  He was 78.  Ojukwu led the Igbo secession effort between 1967 and 1970.

Gowon, who was head of state during the civil war, said he and Ojukwu became reconciled friends committed to move Nigeria forward after the civil war.

“Let me say how sorry and sad I am to hear the passing away of my old colleague and friend and aspirant partner during the period of our crisis. But, both of us were reconciled friends in the end.  He certainly will be missed by all, especially the family and partisans and friends and other well-wishers.  I pray for the repose of his soul and may God grant his soul everlasting rest,” he said.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in a statement praised the late Ojukwu for his “immense love for his people, justice, equity and fairness which forced him into the leading role he played in the civil war.”

Gowon said, while the treatment of the Igbos at the time was undesirable, he does not think it was necessary for the region to secede.

“Let us say that the civil was for the unity of the country.  If there was no secession, there would not have been a civil war.  Although all men of good will to Nigeria will admit that, yes, what happened to the Igbos in Nigeria at the time, it was really bad enough, but I do not think that it should get [to] the stage whereby any leader of a people would wish to take his people out of nation,” Gowon said.

He said he was happy that, in the end, there was no clear victor.

Despite today’s militant agitation in the Niger Delta and the Islamist sect Boko Haram in the north, Gowon said he does not think Nigeria is on the brink of another insurrection like the Biafran civil war.

“I think these are some of the problems that any nation, or many nations, goes through before they have the total peace and stability that they want.  I don’t think that these problems are going to lead to any secession,” Gowon said.

He said, even if  today’s problems in Nigeria would lead to another insurrection like the Biafran civil war, he believes “there are enough men and women of good will who would be able to negotiate a solution that is fair and just to all concerned,” Gowon said.

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