Ojukwu Met Austine: How a Diplomat Who Signed Up to Serve Nigeria Ended Up Serving His Own People

1967: Like an calumniating bedmate who would annihilate if divorced, the Federal Government of Nigeria was accessible to shoot the Igbos into acquiescence should they abstracted from the blow of the country. On the one hand, Nigeria was hunting and killing the Igbos everywhere, but on the added duke they would go to war to anticipate the Igbos from separating.

As is generally the case in calumniating relationships, there was a acumen why break was a baleful option: The country’s affluent oil fields are amid mainly in Eastern Nigeria. Igbos would acceptable authority this ability to the damage of the blow of Nigeria. The West, namely Britain, getting the affiche adolescent of acquisitive imperialists, an accessory of Northern Nigerian oligarchs and afresh a no-friend of the Igbos, was heavily bagged on Nigerian oil.

Yakubu Gowon was arch Nigeria and its surrogates, the Hausa association and, to a base extent, the Yoruba tribe, adjoin Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was arch the Igbo attrition and adaptation efforts.

May 1967: In the aboriginal anniversary or so, while still Arch of Chancery at the Nigerian Embassy, Washington DC, but in name alone – accepting been bare of all duties and functions, and relocated to an abandoned third attic – Austine S.O Okwu accustomed a blast alarm from Godwin, the secretary of the Governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, His Excellency Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

Days afterwards the call, Austine tossed a few admired trousers and shirts, a gray hat, abstract on both sides, and red dome-shaped hat into a amber attache and began the cruise home to Enugu, Eastern Nigeria.

I asked the Professor: ‘What fabricated you commence on this cruise to Eastern Nigeria, at a time if everybody abroad was aggravating to get out? The federal aggressive would absolutely bang Enugu and decapitate the Igbos by disabling their capital. That anyone would accept to biking appear crisis goes adjoin accustomed wisdom.’

Austine: ‘I did it for the adulation I had for my humans and the account I accept for the Igbo people. Traveling to Enugu a brace of months afore the war was a airing in the esplanade if you accede what I did during the war: Flying in a baby acerbic plane, sandwiched amid arsenal and abatement food, and not animate whether I would accomplish it out alive.’

‘Tell me about the affection of the boondocks and the humans if you got to Enugu.’

‘Chaos, agnate to any added refugee crisis. Humans were everywhere, Igbos displaced from Northern and Western Nigeria, humans who had absent ancestors or were searching for a absent adolescent or ancestor or mother. As you know, my baby Anselm, lots of our humans lived alfresco Igboland and they still do, no assignment learned. Our humans were everywhere in Northern and Western Nigeria. They had to appear home to escape death, some advancing home for the aboriginal time. Added than thirty thousand Igbos absent their lives. You saw the anguish in abounding faces. Humans acquainted the augury in the air, like a blood-soaked billow cat-and-mouse for a downpour. What they did not apprehend was the admeasurement of the calamity.’

For a second, a bond came to him and he paused momentarily. ‘A notable barring was the noncombatant servants. I acquainted appreciative of them. Poise was what I saw in them. They were aloof and accessible to serve the people. Their physique accent broadcast confidence, and preparedness, and affinity and unselfishness, and that they were able of acceptable the refugees who came down from Northern and Western Nigeria.’

Ojukwu and Austine met face to face one ages afore the Nigerian-Bifran noncombatant war

May 13, 1967: The sun had amorphous to set if Austine accustomed at Enugu secretariat. An abettor was waiting. Once abaft the adamant foreground aboideau and central the capital building, the abettor and Austine absolved ancillary by ancillary through a dimly lit alley with several doors, none of which were open.

Where the alley concluded both men stopped, and Austine looked at a assurance abreast the top area of a ample door: His Excellency, Governor Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.

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

‘Welcome to Enugu, Austine,’ said Ojukwu, comatose his head. He affective his visitor’s duke and pumped it eleven times. ‘Good luck,’ said the abettor and he bankrupt the aperture on his exit.

Austine had a breach additional to abstraction and analysis his host and the absolute environment. ‘After all,’ his apperception told him, ‘this is wartime; a lamb can bound about-face into a lion.’ He had entered a moderate-sized room; there were twelve bedlam chairs with armrests about a massive board centermost table, aloft which was an accessible backpack of Marlborough cigarettes. His host wore noncombatant clothes with a abbreviate sleeve amber suit, buttoned to collar cartilage level, and batten in a noncombatant tone.

‘Thank you so much, Your Excellency, for agreeable me,’ responded Austine, abiding the hand-pumping with some of his own. At abutting range, Ojukwu was hairier than Austine imagined. If he nodded his head, his barrel-shaped bristles accomplished the abdomen button.

Ojukwu abject two bedlam chairs to a far bend of the allowance and sat in one of them. Austine claimed the added chair. Both faced anniversary other, knees apart.

‘First,’ said His Excellency, ‘thank you for sending us clips of accessible and bi-weekly opinions about the Nigeria-Biafra conflict. On your own initiative, you searched, aggregate and beatific us opinions of how America and absolutely the apple angle the Nigerian chaos, and the bloodshed. You are a accurate Igbo son who loves the Igbos, and understands their asperity and their goal.

‘Austine,’ affiliated Ojukwu, his articulation still civil, admitting his boring was acute and unblinking like application from a adjacent star, ‘the acumen I alleged for you is to ask whether you would accede appointment your abilities and adventures of confined Nigeria to confined your people, your abandoned Igbo people.’

After the request, the Governor confused hardly to the adapted of his chair. ‘Our sons and daughters, our women and accouchement are adversity amazing tribulations, torments, and trials. Austine, I charge to apperceive I can calculation on you, that the Igbos can calculation on you.’

Austine listened and anticipation at the aforementioned time, not absent to interrupt. His apperception searched for clues. If alone he could see the absolute agreeable of Ojukwu’s heart. Every cede over time changes into selfishness, doesn’t it? Why would this moment be an exception?

As Austine thought, he straightened his aback and rubbed his award calm a few times. Ten beyond fingers went up in the air, and 5 of the fingers patted his gray arch hat, acquainted the ancillary embroidery. With eyes bound with the Governor, he said, his accent forceful, deliberate, and yet diplomatic:

‘Your Excellency, you apperceive there is no accountability I would not buck for the Igbos. You could accept called abounding added men and women, some added educated, added connected, and richer than me, but instead you chose me. I shall serve the Igbos to the best of my abilities.’

Satisfied, Ojukwu apparent some high teeth and accustomed a few eye blinks. Suddenly he stood and agilely accepted S.O. Then he absolved three accomplish to the massive centermost table, called a cigarette and broke the end a few times on the table, but did not ablaze it.

‘Furthermore, Austine,’ commenced his Excellency afresh afterwards he sat down, ‘I am traveling to charge you in London. You accept to go aback to London. I am allurement too much, I know. It has alone been twelve months aback you larboard London for the United States, but I am traveling to charge you to go back. I accept aplomb in you, Austine, and I am so blessed you agreed to accompany in the Igbo struggle.’

I asked the Professor, ‘What was Ojukwu’s accepted address during the meeting? Did he batter his anchor on the table abounding times, basic for war? Did he lament, did he weep?’

Answer: ‘In our affair Ojukwu was calm. If he had any emotions, he did not appearance them. One affair I can say about Emeka Ojukwu is that he could ascendancy his affections absolute well, battlefront them up if bare and cooling down at adapted times.’

Before Austine S.O Okwu larboard the secretariat, he wrote a letter resigning from Nigerian adopted services, able June 1, 1967, and gave the letter to Ojukwu’s secretary, Godwin Onyegbula, to mail to Lagos. He had a new assignment: Go to London and set up a Biafran adept mission.

On May 20, 1967, seven canicule afterwards affair with Ojukwu, Austine accustomed in London. Seventeen canicule later, on May 30, 1967, Ojukwu declared the accumulation of the Republic of Biafra, and the action band was drawn. Less than two months later, on July 6, 1967, the Nigeria-Biafra noncombatant war began.

Postscript: If there was one abode in the Nigerian accomplished I would ambition to be, it is the moment Emeka Ojukwu talked Austine Okwu into demography the a lot of affecting adept position on account of the Igbos. It is harder to see what was in the Governor’s affection as he discussed the bearings with Austine. Was the Governor clandestine, as abounding aggressive leaders are, in absolute the absolute accompaniment of affairs, his absolute absorbed and strategies, or was he authoritative decisions as contest unfolded? One aftereffect was clear; he assertive the diplomat, now Professor, to alteration from confined Nigeria to confined the could cause of the Igbo. Millions of added Igbos in their assorted professions did the aforementioned and fabricated abundant claimed sacrifices during the noncombatant war.