Ojukwu Met Austine: How a Diplomat Who Signed As much as Serve Nigeria Ended Up Serving His Personal Folks

1967 : Like an abusive husband who would kill if divorced, the Federal Authorities of Nigeria was able to shoot the Igbos into submission ought to they separate from the remainder of the nation. On the one hand, Nigeria was looking and killing the Igbos in all places, however alternatively they might go to conflict to forestall the Igbos from separating.

As is usually the case in abusive relationships, there was a purpose why separation was a lethal choice: The nation wealthy oil fields are positioned primarily in Japanese Nigeria. Igbos would doubtless maintain this useful resource to the detriment of the remainder of Nigeria. The West, particularly Britain, being the poster youngster of grasping imperialists, an ally of Northern Nigerian oligarchs and these days a no-friend of the Igbos, was closely intoxicated on Nigerian oil.

Yakubu Gowon was main Nigeria and its surrogates, the Hausa tribe and, to a sneaky extent, the Yoruba tribe, in opposition to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was main the Igbo resistance and survival efforts.

Could 1967 : Within the first week or so, whereas nonetheless Head of Chancery on the Nigerian Embassy, ​​Washington DC, however in title solely – having been stripped of all duties and features, and relocated to an empty third ground – Austine SO Okwu obtained a phone name from Godwin, the secretary of the Governor of the Japanese Area of Nigeria, His Excellency Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Days after the decision, Austine tossed just a few favourite trousers and shirts, a grey hat, embroidered on each side, and pink dome-shaped hat right into a brown suitcase and started the journey residence to Enugu, Japanese Nigeria.

I requested the Professor: 'What made you embark on this journey to Japanese Nigeria, at a time when all people else was attempting to get out? The federal army would absolutely strike Enugu and decapitate the Igbos by disabling their capital. That somebody would select to journey in direction of hazard goes in opposition to accepted knowledge. '

Austine: 'I did it for the love I had for my folks and the admiration I’ve for the Igbo folks. Going to Enugu a few months earlier than the conflict was a stroll within the park in case you contemplate what I did in the course of the conflict: Flying in a small rusting aircraft, sandwiched between armory and reduction meals, and never figuring out whether or not I’d make it out alive . '

'Inform me in regards to the temper of the city and the folks if you obtained to Enugu.'

'Chaos, just like every other refugee disaster. Folks had been in all places, Igbos displaced from Northern and Western Nigeria, individuals who had misplaced relations or had been searching for a misplaced youngster or father or mom. As you recognize, my expensive Anselm, numerous our folks lived exterior Igboland and so they nonetheless do, no lesson realized. Our folks had been in all places in Northern and Western Nigeria. They needed to come residence to flee loss of life, some coming residence for the primary time. Greater than thirty thousand Igbos misplaced their lives. You noticed the disappointment in lots of faces. Folks felt the omen within the air, like a soaked cloud ready for a downpour. What they didn’t foresee was the extent of the calamity. '

For a second, a recollection got here to him and he paused momentarily. 'A notable exception was the civil servants. I felt pleased with them. Poise was what I noticed in them. They had been stoic and able to serve the folks. Their physique language radiated confidence, and preparedness, and empathy and unselfishness, and that they had been able to aiding the refugees who got here down from Northern and Western Nigeria. '

Ojukwu and Austine met head to head one month earlier than the Nigerian-Bifran civil conflict

Could 13, 1967 : The solar had begun to set when Austine arrived at Enugu secretariat. An aide was ready. As soon as behind the iron entrance gate and inside the primary constructing, the aide and Austine walked aspect by aspect by means of a dimly lit hallway with a number of doorways, none of which had been open.

The place the hallway ended each males stopped, and Austine checked out an indication close to the highest part of a big door: His Excellency, Governor Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.

Two knocks from the aide. Half a minute or so later, the door opened.

'Welcome to Enugu, Austine,' stated Ojukwu, nodding his head. He grabbed his customer's hand and pumped it eleven instances. 'Good luck,' stated the aide and he closed the door on his exit.

Austine had a cut up second to review and survey his host and the quick surroundings. 'In any case,' his thoughts instructed him, 'that is wartime; a lamb can shortly flip right into a lion. ' He had entered a medium-sized room; there have been twelve padded chairs with armrests round an enormous picket heart desk, upon which was an open pack of Marlborough cigarettes. His host wore civilian garments with a brief sleeve brown go well with, buttoned to collar bone stage, and spoke in a civilian tone.

'Thanks a lot, Your Excellency, for inviting me,' responded Austine, returning the hand-pumping with a few of his personal. At shut vary, Ojukwu was hairier than Austine imagined. When he nodded his head, his barrel-shaped beard reached the stomach button.

Ojukwu dragged two padded chairs to a far nook of the room and sat in one among them. Austine claimed the opposite chair. Each confronted one another, knees aside.

'First,' stated His Excellency, 'thanks for sending us clips of public and newspaper opinions in regards to the Nigeria-Biafra battle. By yourself initiative, you searched, compiled and despatched us opinions of how America and certainly the world views the Nigerian chaos, and the bloodshed. You’re a true Igbo son who loves the Igbos, and understands their predicament and their objective.

'Austine,' continued Ojukwu, his voice nonetheless civil, although his gaze was piercing and unblinking like rays from a close-by star, 'the rationale I referred to as for you is to ask whether or not you’d contemplate transferring your expertise and experiences of serving Nigeria to serving your folks, your beleaguered Igbo folks. '

After the request, the Governor shifted barely to the best of his chair. 'Our little children, our ladies and kids are struggling super tribulations, torments, and trials. Austine, I have to know I can depend on you, that the Igbos can depend on you. '

Austine listened and thought on the identical time, not eager to interrupt. His thoughts looked for clues. If solely he may see all the content material of Ojukwu's coronary heart. Each sacrifice over time modifications into selfishness, doesn't it? Why would this second be an exception?

As Austine thought, he straightened his again and rubbed his palms collectively just a few instances. Ten crossed fingers went up within the air, and 5 of the fingers patted his grey dome hat, felt the aspect embroidery. With eyes locked with the Governor, he stated, his tone forceful, deliberate, and but diplomatic:

'Your Excellency, you recognize there isn’t a burden I’d not bear for the Igbos. You can have chosen many different women and men, some extra educated, extra linked, and richer than me, however as a substitute you selected me. I shall serve the Igbos to the most effective of my skills. '

Happy, Ojukwu uncovered some higher tooth and allowed just a few eye blinks. Instantly he stood and calmly embraced SO Then he walked three steps to the large heart desk, chosen a cigarette and tapped the top just a few instances on the desk, however didn’t mild it.

'Moreover, Austine,' commenced his Excellency once more after he sat down, 'I’m going to wish you in London. It’s a must to return to London. I’m asking an excessive amount of, I do know. It has solely been twelve months because you left London for the US, however I’m going to wish you to return. I’ve confidence in you, Austine, and I’m so glad you agreed to hitch within the Igbo wrestle. '

I requested the Professor , 'What was Ojukwu's normal demeanor in the course of the assembly? Did he pound his fist on the desk many instances, readying for conflict? Did he lament, did he weep? '

Reply: 'In our assembly Ojukwu was calm. If he had any feelings, he didn’t present them. One factor I can say about Emeka Ojukwu is that he may management his feelings very nicely, firing them up when wanted and cooling down at acceptable instances. '

Earlier than Austine SO Okwu left the secretariat, he wrote a letter resigning from Nigerian international providers, efficient June 1, 1967, and gave the letter to Ojukwu's secretary, Godwin Onyegbula, to mail to Lagos. He had a brand new task: Go to London and arrange a Biafran diplomatic mission.

On Could 20, 1967, seven days after assembly with Ojukwu, Austine arrived in London. Seventeen days later, on Could 30, 1967, Ojukwu declared the formation of the Republic of Biafra, and the battle line was drawn. Lower than two months later, on July 6, 1967, the Nigeria-Biafra civil conflict started.

Postscript: If there was one place within the Nigerian previous I’d want to be, it’s the second Emeka Ojukwu talked Austine Okwu into taking essentially the most influential diplomatic place on behalf of the Igbos. It’s laborious to see what was within the Governor's coronary heart as he mentioned the scenario with Austine. Was the Governor clandestine, as many army leaders are, in revealing the precise state of affairs, his actual intent and techniques, or was he making choices as occasions unfolded? One consequence was clear; he satisfied the diplomat, now Professor, to switch from serving Nigeria to serving the reason for the Igbo. Hundreds of thousands of different Igbos of their numerous professions did the identical and made nice private sacrifices in the course of the civil conflict.