BOOK SHELF: Ojukwu Wept Under My Shoulder For Forgiveness Over Role In War ― Amb Ukume
BY JOSEPH ERUNKE
Nigerian Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire during late President Shehu Shagari’s administration, Denis Ukume, has disclosed that late Biafra warlord, Odumegwu Ojukwu, wept under his shoulder for forgiveness over role in war.
The 83-year-old claimed Ojukwu agreed to Shagari’s condition to be referred to simply as “Mr” without any military insignia if he (Ojukwu) would be granted pardon for his role in the Nigerian Civil War.
But he said Ojukwu almost marred his chances of being accorded the amnesty when he flouted the condition a few hours after by referring to himself as “General Odumegwu Ojukwu”, in an appreciation letter he wrote to him following his role in the amnesty deal.
Ukume’s claims were contained in his book, titled: “I believe”, which he published among three others, launched in Abuja.
His three other books also launched alongside, were titled, “My Challenges”, Osofinco and Mamma Mia”, respectively.
In the published book, the former Nigerian ambassador also said the then National Party of Nigeria, NPN, had made efforts to frustrate the granting of amnesty to Ojukwu if he would not join the party upon return to Nigeria but that his firm opposition to the party’s leadership condition, led to the amnesty for the late Biafran leader.
“When the Executive Committee members of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, got wind about the progress being made in connection with the granting of amnesty to Ojukwu, they quickly sent a powerful delegation to me.
“They requested that under no circumstances should amnesty be given to Ojukwu unless he gave an unequivocal undertaking that he would enroll as a member of the NPN on return. I told them clearly that their demand was unacceptable. I reported the matter to the president.
“Weeks later, I traveled to Lagos to inform the president that I was convinced beyond any doubt that Ojukwu was thoroughly remorseful for all that had happened during the civil war. I then recommended he be granted amnesty.
“The president accepted my recommendation. He dispatched the Minister of Internal Affairs, Ali Baba, and the Director-General of National Security Organisation, NSO, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi with a list of conditions governing the granting of the amnesty.
“They were as follows: That no one would force him to join a political party. The government, however, advised that on his return, he should conduct a thorough overview of the political parties in the country with any of his choice; that his personal protection like those of all Nigerians was guaranteed under the Nigerian constitution; that he should not own a privately armed body for is protection,” he said.
Other conditions by Shagari to Ojukwu, according to Amb Ukume, were, “That he was returning to Nigeria as a Mr Odumegwu Ojukwu with no military insignia attached to his name; that his properties or those of his relations that had been confiscated as a result of a decree or edict remained the properties of government; that his properties or those of his relations occupied by government and rents not paid would be fully paid to date and that if those conditions were acceptable to him, the president would consider granting him amnesty.”
Ukume said: “Accompanied by the Minister and the Director-General, I took the conditions to a high-profile meeting of the Ivorian governing party which was convened by the president.
“I read the conditions one after the other. Ojukwu accepted all of them. Finally, we then went to a meeting of the Ivorian Executive Council. As the Minister, the DG, and I embraced him in turns, he broke down and wept profusely,” he claimed.
Ukume continued: “Shortly after the delegation had returned to Nigeria, I invited Ojukwu and his wife to the residence for a private dinner by the swimming pool. I had also asked a few senior members of the Nigerian Community, and our home-based officers with their wives to attend. The idea of the dinner, I informed President Shagari afterward, was to reassure Ojukwu about the genuineness of the government’s intentions, and to allay any unfounded fears that the government was planning to abduct him.
“Days after the dinner party, Ojukwu wrote to express his appreciation. I was shocked when he ended his letter with ‘Yours most respectfully, General Odumegwu Ojukwu.’
“General! He already had contravened one of the amnesty conditions!
“A few days later, I was in Lagos and called the attention of the president to the word “General”, which was clearly a misnomer given the conditions of the amnesty.
“The president had also received a letter from the ex-warlord requesting for a courtesy call appointment when he returned to Nigeria. The letter also carried the infamous insignia.
“However, benign President Shagari took the triviality in his stride. He was ever ready to receive Ojukwu,” he added.
According to Amb Ukume, Ex-vice president, late Alex Ekwueme, had planned to join prominent Ibo sons and daughters to welcome Ojukwu at the airport upon return to the country but was reminded of his then status by President Shagari.
“A great number of distinguished Ibo sons and daughters had planned to welcome Ojukwu at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Vice President Ekwueme was also reportedly warming up to join the welcoming party until Shagari reminded him of his status in the country,” he said.