By Christopher Isiguzo , Onwuka Nzeshi and Emmanuel Ugwu
Thousands of South-easterners Tuesday thronged the streets of Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia States to pay their last respect to their late leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Also, the South-east Parlia-mentary Caucus in the National Assembly has declared a one-week legislative holiday in honour of the man that was popularly called Ikemba Nnewi.
In Ebonyi State, the indigenes paid their last respect to Odumegwu-Ojukwu at the state Township Stadium, Abakaliki.
The remains of the late Ikemba, which was flown into Abakaliki from Abia State in a Nigerian Air Force helicopter with the inscription NAF 528, touched down on the Presbyterian Church field, Kpirikpiri, Abakaliki at exactly 3pm and was ushered in a motorcade to the over 15,000 capacity stadium directly opposite the church where the waiting crowd broke into tumultuous but solemn joy and exhilaration to behold the people’s hero.
The stadium was filled to the brim as many who could not gain entry into the stadium waited outside to catch a glimpse of the casket.
All the major markets and shops in the state were shut to enable the people to go to the stadium and pay their last respect.
The remains of Ikemba Nnewi, who was also Eze Igbo Gburu Gburu, were accompanied by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and his wife, Beatrice; the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Ume; the widow, Bianca; the second son, Emeka (Jnr); and the vice-chairman of the national burial committee, Senator Uche Chukwumerije.
Others were: former Ministers of Health, Professor A. B. C. Nwosu; and Tim Menakaya; Senator Ben Obi; and former Information Minister, Chief John Nnaya Nwodo.
On ground to receive the team were Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi; his wife, Josephine; the Deputy Governor, Chief Dave Umahi; Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Chukwuma Nwazunku; Chief Judge of the state, Alloy Nwankwo; former governor of the state, Dr. Sam Egwu; Chairman of the local organising committee, Senator Emmanuel Azu Agboti; and members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ebonyi State chapter, among others.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s body left Abakaliki by 5pm to Enugu in the same Nigerian Air Force helicopter, while military personnel organised special military honours and parade.
At Enugu, his remains were received by the Deputy Governor of the state, Sunday Onyebuchi, to commence a three-day programme which would be capped tomorrow when a national burial ceremony is expected to be held in the state.
At exactly 6:15pm, the body arrived Government House in a Nigerian Army ambulance marked NA 459, accompanied by pall bearers, all colonels from the 82 Division, Enugu.
In his obsequies in honour of the deceased, Elechi described the late Ikemba as a product of historical circumstance whose demise had caused an outpouring of grief and sorrow to the Nigerian state and Ndigbo in particular.
He noted that the late soldier with his indomitable courage and personality of colour and action would have been able to proffer useful solutions to some of the socio-political challenges facing the nation at this time.
According to him, “For Ojukwu, the world was not simply a stage upon which he came and had his exit but rather a stage upon which he came and left with a difference,” adding that but for the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, very little would probably might have been known about him.
He said: “Although Ezeigbo Gburugburu has caused an outpour of grief and sorrows to the Nigerian state and Ndigbo in particular, it is not so much the fact of death which is our common heritage that makes us sorrow at his passage, but that our war hero, a soldier of great prowess, a man of indomitable courage and a personality of colour and action, died after many months of motionlessness in his bed of pains.
“But with the convulsion on the Nigerian political scene, secession became synonymous with Ojukwu; Biafra became synonymous with Odumegwu-Ojukwu and rebellion became synonymous with Odumegwu-Ojukwu. These historical circumstances have become inseparable for the name of Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Each of these clichés is an alter ego of a historian who shaped the history of his fatherland and at the same time, became a product of historical circumstance.”
The Enugu State government has declared tomorrow a public holiday in honour of the late Ikemba Nnewi.
A statement signed by Chukwudi Achife, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Sullivan Chime, said that the holiday was to enable Enugu citizens attend and participate actively in the national burial and funeral ceremonies of the deceased statesman that will hold the same day at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu.
Meanwhile, the Anambra Parliamentary Caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday embarked on a one-week break from all legislative activities in honour of the late Ikemba Nnewi, whose remains will be interred on Friday.
The lawmakers, robed in a red coloured ankara uniform bearing the picture of Ojukwu held a procession within the premises of the House of Representatives during which they briefly marched into the chamber and took solemn bows one after the other.
The procession which took their colleagues by surprise attracted a spontaneous applause.
Briefing journalists shortly after, leader of the Caucus and Chair-man, House Committee on Envi-ronment, Hon Uche Ekwunife, disclosed that the weeklong break was with the permission of the leadership of the House to enable them participate fully in the funeral rites of Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
“We are not going to be in the House because we are mourning one of our own; we are mourning our son; we are mourning our leader; we are mourning a great icon; someone who is acclaimed by the entire nation to be the true leader of the Igbos. That is basically the significant entrance you saw in the House today,” she said.
Ekwunife, who extolled the virtues of the late Eze Ndigbo, urged the governments of the South-east states to immortalise the erstwhile military governor of the defunct South-east region.
She lamented that Ojukwu died at this time when the nation was in a precarious state of insecurity when the wisdom of elder statesmen was highly needed to save the country from anarchy and chaos.
Similarly, the last wish of Odumegwu-Ojukwu was yesterday fulfilled when his remains were received at Aba, the commercial centre of Abia State.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu had before he passed on specifically requested that his body should be taken to Aba before his final repose. Markets closed and shops were shut in Aba and Umuahia while government offices and banks all closed down for business following a public holiday declared by the state government.
The people of Aba and indeed the whole of Abia State did not disappoint the memory of the great hero as they turned out en masse to pay their last respect to the man they hold in great respect.
Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s body arrived in a military helicopter at 11.52am in company with his widow, Bianca, and three of his children, namely Emeka Jnr, Mimi and Okigbo as well as Prof. Nwosu and Senator Chukwumerije.
When the casket draped in national colours bearing Ojukwu’s body was wheeled on a trolley into the stadium with marshal music, the atmosphere was electrified as the stadium vibrated with a thunderous ovation.
The Catholic Bishop of Aba, Right Reverend Vincent Ezeonyia, who officiated at a short church service, described Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a man who proved his worth by his deeds, adding that the late Ikemba deserved all the honour being given to him in death.
Governor Theodore Orji in his speech said Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a detribalised Nigerian not only by the fact that he was born in the North, schooled in the West but also by the fact that he was a man who saw far beyond his horizon and when the centre of the Nigerian nation could no longer hold, he was compelled to lead his people to war in order to enthrone equity and social justice in Nigeria.
“That war opened our eyes to the essence of unity in Nigeria. It opened the eyes of Nigerians to agitate for what rightly belong to them,” he said.
The Abia governor stated that the memories of Odumegwu-Ojukwu “the charismatic leader” would ever be kept alive in Abia what with the presence of Odumegwu-Ojukwu bunker and the National War Museum both in Umuahia.
Senator Chukwumerije, who represented the National Funeral Committee, said that at birth in Zungeru in present day Niger State, Odumegwu-Ojukwu was prepared by God for great things and the late Biafran leader had become one of the greatest Nigerians of this century.
He told Ndigbo that the best honour they would give Odumegwu-Ojukwu after his internment is unity of Ndigbo because that was what he stood for and worked for.
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