…Sets conditions for peace
BY CHIDI OBINECHE
Debe Ojukwu, the late Dim Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu’s son speaks on the wrangling in the family, the Will their patriarch left behind, his relationship with the late Biafra leader’s wife, Bianca, those who celebrate political victories on his dad’s grave among other sensitive issues.
What are the lessons you learnt from the death of your father, Ojukwu?
The major lessons to me are tenacity of purpose and his truthfulness. I found out that truth and love conquer all. It’s very difficult in contemporary Nigeria to be truthful. That he has held on for such a long time and up till now, there are no smears or scandals on his person, is a big lesson for us, especially those of us who are his direct offsprings.
Talking about truth and tenacity of purpose, are there issues that are still agitating your mind since his demise some three years ago?
Well, at the national level, he always felt that the Igbos are shortchanged, that the Igbos are not getting their dues as far as the Nigerian experiment is concerned. He voiced it consistently. He did that almost 50 years ago at Aburi. If at Aburi he went on to canvass for a confederation and then 50 years after, the same situation is still staring us in the face, I believe that says a lot about who he was.
How is the family now? Have the issues and controversies that almost tended to mar his funeral been finally laid to rest?
Well, most of the cases that sparked out from his demise are still in court. We are still grappling with them. So, that is subjudice, and then wisely and as a lawyer, it will not be prudent to speculate or pass judgment on a matter that is before courts of competent jurisdiction. So far, everybody is living peacefully and the judiciary is duty bound to maintain peace and that peace even though it is a peace in a kind of cloak is maintained. It’s a simulated peace.
What are your major regrets in the ensuing battles?
I have no regrets, because he was an Iroko tree and in the forest ,if there is a sort of sprouting of an Iroko tree, the fall will normally throw up a lot of dust. So, there is need to have a shifting of position, and that is exactly what happened. But the way it went, the trajectory it took, I didn’t expect. But then, with the benefit of hindsight, it is human nature, the covetous nature of human beings. In the first instance, I was brought up to believe that most things are ordained by God. If God has made you that you are going to be a managing director of a company, I will not covet it, I will not wish you ill because you are occupying that position. What I could do, and what I should do is as much as possible to try and acquit myself creditably, so well that I will find my own niche. You see life is all about niches. You identify your niche, solidify your niche, you concretize it, and then try to make that niche very attractive, but not to covert somebody else’s niche, because that might not be your destiny.
A lot of problems cropped up during the burial of Ikemba Ojukwu. At the heart of the problems was his Will. Many people believe you were shortchanged by the Ikemba himself.
I was not shortchanged by the Ikemba himself. That’s another lie. Most of the things that happened that time were all lies. And those lies are the reason why the issues are still under litigation. The Will itself which was shown to the world, is a forged document. I cannot on the basis of a forged document claim or admit that my father shortchanged me. I would have preferred that the document be very authentic, and then it will be easy to say that he short changed me. My father could never shortchange me, because I am his most favourite legitimate son. He could never have done that, and knowing how we related, there was no way he could have done that; and the way things were done in my family, I am happy and I am convinced that he did not do that. That is why you can see me relaxed. I could have been fretting. That’s why you are seeing me here. You saw me here almost six years ago, and you are seeing me here today. Constancy.(laughs)
What makes you think the document was forged and by whom, because the impression they gave everybody was that it was authentic? And some of those who unveiled it claimed that they were witnesses….
They were not witnesses to anything. There were so many things that are not right about the Will. One is the document. The signatures on them are supposed to be two. But with my professional experience and knowledge, I was able to know that the signatures on both of them were one. Both are forgeries. They are not his signature. Please don’t lose sight of the fact that my father was a public servant. If you get the document on Ahiara Declaration, you will see his signature. If you get the edicts which he signed as the governor of the Eastern region you will see his signature.
If you take his signature and juxtapose it with those on the so-called documents, you will see that he didn’t sign them. And then the document ran into pages. If you were to argue that when he signed it, he was sick, then the compulsion under the law (that is if you are a lawyer), he didn’t write it in his hand, they were type written, and when a document is type written supposedly, they were made by a lawyer. And if a lawyer makes a document for somebody who is invalid, who has no vision, who has no firmity to write, then the lawyer ought to on every page of the document counter sign .And at the end, he will add what the law calls the jurat; that this thing was written by this man in a state of eczema disease, or infirmity, or blindness, or whatever, or that he could not read, or write and all that. Then I read it back to him, and after reading it back to him….
(Cuts in ) When he was able and conscious?
Yes. He nodded his assent and then I signed and he countersigned. That is what is called the jurat. So, that document is supposed to have jurat on all the pages. It doesn’t. Again, before you do a Will, there must be what is called an inventory, because you will declare what you have and not what you don’t have. So, most of the property in the so-called Will, because it’s not his Will contain property which do not belong to him. In one of the clauses he said,
“I have 10 hectares of land. A hectare is supposed to be about 60 plots. If you go round the whole of Nnewi, I don’t think you can see 60 plots together. That is the way it is. So you find out that those things are the warped imaginations of individuals. Wills are very straight forward. A Will does not say you can give property to your child. You can have your property and decide not to give it to your child. But what the Will does not allow you to do is to say that child is not your own. For instance, your father started having children at the age of 20 or 23, or whatever. But he can decide that by the time he is about to die, you, the eldest son, you are well established and so decide that he will not give you anything because you have taken a lot. But what he will do is to say that “my son John, I give him nothing because he is well established.”
But when you don’t add his name in the Will, are you telling him to become the son of whom, because there is a lineage?. You cannot bring a child into this world and then cast him away. So, are you telling him to be the son of whom?. That is why the law imposes that responsibility, that where you don’ t name him and say you are disinheriting him or you are not giving him anything, then the person will make claims under Common Law. They call that kind of child a “predeterminate child.” Nobody begged you to become the father of somebody. An innocent child, who is somewhere, you went and fathered him. You cannot say let him go to the moon. The law does not allow you to do that. But you can very well say, “I own this car. This boy, or this girl, don’t touch my car.” So, by the mere fact that my name is not in that Will and I am the natural and only legitimate child, makes it useless.
You said you are the only legitimate child?
What about the other children?
Let’s leave it like that. I told you earlier that the matter is in court. That’s why I don’t want to go on espousing it. I only have to explain this by illuminating the scenarios for you to understand.
Who would you hold responsible for the forgery? Who actually is the culprit?
I wouldn’t know. If I knew the person, he would have been in police cell by now. That’s what the courts and the police will have to discover. Once you have taken the case to court, and as long as that case is in court, there is no Will. That’s why I feel very funny when I hear people mentioning Will. There is no Will, because that Will is a subject of litigation before an Enugu High Court.
Are you saying that the great man himself never thought it fit to write any Will? You are saying that there is no Will?
There is no Will. It’s not that he didn’t deem it expedient to write any Will because I witnessed one. So, if I witnessed one…
That was in what year?
I think it was in 1998 or thereabout. I witnessed one. He was writing it. He asked me to come and sit by him. He did that because he felt that as the eldest legitimate son that he had to show me how he wanted to share his property, so that if I had any objections I could raise it at that point, and not later. There is no kind of honour and respect a man can give which is greater than that. But I declined. I told him no. I declined because I am a well-trained lawyer. I said no, I won’t do that. He was surprised because he thought he was doing me a favour , but I said no. He asked me why? He was sitting with one of his lawyers then. He said why? And I said I don’t know if you are going to will anything to me. And if it really turns out that I was there while you were willing it to me, it could be construed or misconstrued to mean that I influenced you to give that to me.
Your father was intellectually rich. But materially, how rich was he?
He was very rich materially. Do not lose sight of the fact that he was the only child of the first African millionaire. The only natural child.
But it was said that he frittered the father’s wealth during the civil war. That he used it to fight the cause of Biafra?
I am sitting down here, and I am sitting on one of that wealth. He didn’t fritter this away. I am sitting here. If he had frittered this one away, I wouldn’t have been here. I am sitting down here because he didn’t fritter it away. So many stories came up during the war over an individual. No, I don’t think he did that. There is no way he could have done that. Even in his Will, he didn’t lay emphasis on his father’s wealth. But the whole of his father’s wealth belonged naturally to him. There are no two ways about it. He didn’t have a sister, he didn’t have a brother.
He didn’t? What about the brothers that have been associated with him?
He has no natural sister or brother. Just quote me. There are no persons like that.
How about the others that we know of? Who are they?
I talk of my own side.
What I know is that my father does not have a natural sister or natural brother of the same father and mother. He had a natural brother and sister of the same mother. Those are the Biggas. The Tom Bigga. But he didn’t have any other brother or sister born naturally from the same father. He was an only child from the father’s side. And that is the crux of the matter. What God gave him was too much for him, but that is not for a human being to decide. God in His wisdom decided to make him the only child. And in order to strengthen his position, he joined the Army and became a very big General. It was all God’s will. So, you cannot say why should this man be the son of such a rich man, and also making a name for himself? It’s not for you to decide. Where he decides that it is his father’s wealth and he should give it out to charity, that is a different thing, and if he did I wouldn’t have met it.
Let’s come back home a bit. What is your relationship with his wife, Bianca?
It’s still the same way it was. It’s not very cordial. It’s not very cordial because I have certain faults. There are certain levels below which I cannot operate. One of them is lies. I cannot tolerate lies. Another is stealing. I don’t tolerate that. My dividing point from any individual is when I find out that the person is a thief or a liar. So, if she could wake up today and say she doesn’t know me eh eh eh! In fact, that is the dividing line, because clearly that is a lie. If she could wake today, tomorrow, and make attempts to steal my things, I will be surprised, because that is the way life is. Looking at it, I believe that you steal from somebody who is better than you are.
Whenever you see somebody stealing, even if he is in a Rolls Royce and he is stealing, he is worse off than the peasant he is stealing from. If somebody is making attempts to steal what God in his infinite mercies has given me, because I may be short, I might be ugly, I may be ineloquent, but God in his infinite wisdom said this is the idiot that will be the eldest legitimate son of Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, the avatar of the world. Any man questioning it is wasting his time. That is it. What you can do is to glorify God. This is what God has given o’ boy. If you feel like giving me, you give me, if you don’t feel like giving me; well that is your own cup of tea. All my life I never realized that it is even my father’s person that made me realize that people even envy me. I never knew I was to be the butt of envy to the extent that so many people; some governments were trying to steal what belongs to me. Why should a government steal what belongs to me? A government that should support what belongs to me .And they are now trying to steal what belongs to me.
Which government are you referring to?
Talk about the government of Anambra State, then. It is very funny. If my father died, it is my father and not your father. Even if you were political associates, the thing you do is to come to me and ask me “how do you want your father to be buried?” and I will tell you. If you can help me, you help me, if you cannot help me you leave me and I do what I want to do. If you are claiming that because he is your political associate and because of that you kill his children and become his child, it is funny. And it all burnt out, because subsequently, those people who were claiming ‘I love him too much, I am his child’, were jumping away. And I am still here. The Iroko tree, I am not moving.
How did you feel when they barred you from his funeral rites?
I felt slighted, because it was not supposed to have happened. I felt bad, because if there was anybody who planned his burial, I did. I planned everything. The service that I was to have attended, I planned it. So, for me to have been barred from an event which I planned could be very painful. You know there was a similar thing that tried to play out, but I didn’t take it seriously. That was when Chief Onoh died. A similar thing tried to play out. I was the one that handled most of the things on our side for his burial. But somehow I heard a rumour and because nobody wanted to do the burial thing, I went to do it. I convinced my father to do that. I told him this was something I felt we should do. He listened to me and we did it. We held the plans to the chest and executed it. At the point it was being executed, somebody from the side that wanted to fight me, said that it would be wonderful that somebody planned a party, and didn’t attend the party. The person was telling somebody, who later told me. They were surprised that with my father we were able to plan the thing, and it was very successful.
Most of the futile attempts they made to stop me from attending the funeral, so that they will take the glory, didn’t work out for them. In the end they started scurrying away like rats. This other one came, they saw in it an opportunity to still try to do something. Everything had finished. You remember the conclusion was to have my father’s final burial ceremony in Enugu, and perhaps bury him there. I was the one that insisted he should be taken to Nnewi. I did the whole arrangement. When they accepted this, I commissioned the building of the mausoleum at Nnewi at my own personal expense.
They cut me off because they felt somehow I was being too forward. But if I am not forward at my father’s burial, I wonder which other burial I would be forward in. Chinua Achebe died, did you see me there? I did not go there because it did not concern me. The one that concerned me was my dad, because that was my responsibility, biblically imposed. “Honour your father and your mother that your days may be long.” I was duty bound divinely to honour that man that gave me life and that was what I did. Those who are charlatans came that day to take pictures and after that they went away. All the people that took pictures you know where they are today.
How do you relate with one of your siblings, Emeka who the government actually positioned as the first son of Ikemba?
When you do a document you put a stamp. The government started as a lie. The worst thing that can happen to a people is to have a lying government. Having told lies and having committed themselves, I did a research on it, they were compelled to continue telling lies. But the problem is that the people have seen through the lies, and the lies are not holding water. Lies have an expiry date. That is why you see them floundering. Those that initiated, those that conjectured those lies, where are they today? They have been licking one calamity or the other. And the man who stood where he is, is still living.
At the back of your mind, do you have any room for forgiveness?
I have room for forgiveness. I am not God. But the only thing I am insisting on which is important to me is that the essence of a human being is being sustained by a good name. Good name is better than gold. So, for me, the mere fact that a band of people, some 80 years, 70 years, 60 years, conspired to shout my name to the whole world that I told a lie, I expected them for decency sake, if now they have realized that they told a lie against this innocent person, they should be bold and honest enough to come out, call a press conference, and say please we erred. That is the basis of forgiveness. And in conclusion, before they are forgiven, if you go to confession they tell you to do the act of contrition in the Catholic Church, before they tell you what you have to do. I am a trained lawyer and I pride myself on a good name. That’s because the person whose name I bear, built his name, cast it in gold. He made his money; he is the only deep pocket in Nigeria, if not in Africa who made his money shorn of corruption. The wealth of Sir Odimegwu Ojukwu has never been punctured. You can never hear that he stole money or he sold Nigeria’s oil to make his money. So, bearing that name, it is a thing of shame for a few upstarts to wake up to say that I am not the son of whom I say am. When you say that, the import, the baseline is to say this man is a liar. And if I am a liar, I should be disrobed from being a lawyer. If I am a liar, I should be sent to jail. If I am a liar, there should be a communiqué saying that people should stop dealing with me.
Some politicians after major victories go to your father’s grave to dance. What is your reaction to that?
It’s very obscene. It’s an obscene thing. You don’t do that. When a man dies, you say rest in peace; rest in perfect peace. You should allow him to rest. All those things are gimmicks to draw and hoodwink people to pay money to you, get their votes and so on. When my father was sick, how many of them visited him in hospital? You go to his grave you dance, you do all sort of things, you drink some hot drinks and you believe you are doing something. No, you are not doing anything. The man’s name should be revered, it should be venerated. It is not a place anybody should be going every time. In the church, where you have the grotto of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you don’t go there to play football. You go there at solemn moments. It’s not when you have taken some bottles of drinks you go there and start misbehaving.
That is not how it is done. If you are telling lies, you should first of all look at him. The most important part of a person’s body is the back. Somebody, who is staying with you, eating with you, drinking with you, and he turns his back, and you allow his house to be burning? The first thing you should do is to call all the people together to sit down. When your father was alive, I know this person, I know that person. You were all sitting down together. What happened? We don’t want this to happen. That is the first take off point. It is not when you go and instigate trouble in his house because you felt that the person you are trying to cover is a star, he is so eloquent, and another Ikemba will be born. If I am standing there, and you go to mess up on my father’s grave, I walk you out because I know the desecration you are doing in that place.
At the Nnewi family home, do you have a house there?
No, I don’t . I am supposed to have a house there. Normally, the eldest son occupies the father’s obi (traditional Igbo homestead). So , my father’s house is mine. It’s mine by inheritance. After my father went on exile, that did not make his father’s house to cease from being his house. The house belongs to me. If some miscreants have decided to overrun the place, then I can decide to go and become a refugee somewhere. But that does not mean that when I am ready I will not go back there or build my own place. That is the Igbo tradition. It becomes more compelling when the person you are talking about is the eldest legitimate child, and there is nobody contesting it.
Why do you insist you are the eldest, legitimate child when there are other claimants like Emeka Ojukwu, Jnr?
I was born in 1956. At that time, my father was a bachelor, and my mother a spinster. They met themselves, fell in love, and as a result of that love I was born. Neither of them was married. As the son of my father, the law is very clear, that if my father does not acknowledge me as his son, then in law, they will say I am his illegitimate son for purposes of inheritance. But I am still his son. When my father finished with my mother, he went and married a woman in the marriage registry.
And they did a court wedding. That woman is still alive today. They quarreled, and she went away. They weren’t divorced, till today. So, there is no way any marriage subsequent to that woman, can be a valid marriage, because the woman’s marriage has not been nullified.
There is no decree NISI, there is no decree absolutely. Then subsequently, my father now said, this is my son. That is me. It makes me for the purposes of law and everything legitimate. When I was born, that first marriage was not in existence. But if that first marriage were to be in existence, then he cannot admit to any child born outside that marriage, unless with the consent of both parties. Then you now have somebody, whose mother was once married to somebody else, and then left the husband and eloped with my father.
The marriage of my father to that first woman was never annulled; the marriage of this second woman to her first husband was also never annulled. In law, and in custom, the children sired during their cohabitation belong to the first husband. Any woman who comes in while the first marriage my father had was still subsisting can only be a mistress. That is the position of the law.
Sunday, 2 August 2015