Pandemonium broke loose. People were running helter-skelter, wailing. Those who could not wail were shouting. Commentaries upon commentaries were all over the media. The cyber cafes were flooded. Everybody wanted first-hand news. General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu is dead. Nigeria and Nigerians stood still.
Since Gowon and Obasanjo have refused to allow the sleeping dog to lie, one issue their statements have made Ndi’Igbo and Ngerians to recall to is the issue of ‘Abandoned Property.’ This phraseology was given after the Nigeria/Biafra civil war – 1967-1970. Ndiigbo who are majority Biafrans left their property in the old Rivers State created in 1967, and fled for safety of their lives during this war. After the war they came back to Rivers State to start up a new life, they were deprived of their property. Rivers men and women claimed Ndiigbo property worth Millions of Pounds unlawfully and characterized it “Abandoned Property” with the connivance of the Nigerian state.
The Nigeria/Biafra war didn’t just come up. It was after the Northerners gruesomely murdered Ndiigbo, in what was called retaliation of some Northern elites, who were killed during the January 15, 1966 coup. This coup was adjudged as a pointer that Ndiigbo wanted to "dominate" all spheres of life in Nigeria. But the fact was that the coupists never consulted any of the known prominent Igbo leaders. The North characterized it as “Igbo-inspired Coup.” Hence, they killed Ndiigbo in the North. Ndiigbo mutilated bodies were ferried down their land amidst tears. Ojukwu was among notable Igbo sons and daughters who stood up and cried and called the entire world to come and see the pogrom that was committed against Igbo. The Northerners wanted to break out of Nigeria. Hence they saw anybody who was not from the North as an enemy.
The Northerners circulated falsehood as necessary motivation for executing the civil war. They said that General JTU Aguiyi Ironsi’s military regime was tending towards unitary form and if not stopped, would be detrimental to the heterogeneous composition of Nigeria. As a result, some scholars have asked that if unitary government was against Nigeria’s corporate interest between January 15, 1966 and July 28, 1966, how come after the July 29, 1966 revenge coup, unitary system of government was consolidated and perpetuated within Nigeria even till present-day? What changed after July 29, 1966? They have asked that could it be that some sections of Nigeria were entitled to impose and operate a unitary form of government on other sections of Nigeria, while some other sections are not entitled to do the same. The scholars have further said that the Hausa-Fulani, while hiding their real intensions for the war, co-opted the Yoruba in the project. Both these groups set about poisoning the minds of some Eastern Nigeria minority groups especially the Ijaw with phantoms of Igbo “oppression” and “domination” so much so that both the Eyo Ita incident and Udo Udoma’s COR movement issue became ready ‘examples’ adduced as representative of Igbo ‘domination’ of Eastern Region minorities with the potential to spread to other parts of Nigeria, if not checked by collective effort. The unsuspecting Ijaw, Efik, Ogoni amongst others, swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker.
Ojukwu’s death has refreshed the memories of Ndiigbo on the evil of ‘Abandoned Property.” General Yakubu Gowon was it who led the Nigerian soldiers against the Biafrans. The war took millions of lives of Ndiigbo and impoverished them during and after the war. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who advised Gowon in 1967 to diminish the powers of Ndiigbo. His heinous advise was that Gowon should divide the old Eastern region by creating two states out from it. But this was Awolowo who was released from the Calabar prisons and taken to his Ikene home by Ojukwu's aids. Awolowo gave this ill advise shortly after his release from the prison. It was his advise that born Rivers and south eastern states. These states were used as an easy access by the Nigerian state to humiliate Biafrans.
Shortly Rivers State was carved out from the old eastern region, Biafra’s main base in Calabar and Port Harcourt fell to the capture of the Nigerian soldiers with the aid of some people characterized as saboteurs. The Igbo victims fled Port Harcourt when the city was captured by the Third Marine Commando Division in May 1968. Olusegun Obasanjo was the General Officer Commanding Third Commando Division in 1969, with headquarters in Port Harcourt, and was seen as one of the hands guiding the then Rivers State governor, Lt-Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff. When this was achieved by the Nigerian soldiers, historians would say that Ken Saro Wiwa was allegedly among the Rivers State indigenes who led other like minds from the state to Gowon. The outcome of their meeting was an accord with the Gowon-led government that should the war end in favour of Nigeria, the state would take over all that Ndiigbo left behind in River State.
In 1970 the war ended, Gowon pronounced his Kangaroo statement: "No victor, No vanquished". While this lasted, because an agreement is an agreement, Ndiigbo property they worked hard to institute in Rivers State was sharply coveted by the Rivers indigenes and was immediately given the name – Abandoned Property. Ndiigbo were hand-twisted over their property. However, Awolowo, while the war was going on was given the Federal Commissioner for Finance, a gift from Gowon for denouncing his earlier stand to declare the Odu-Dua Republic. His stand on this republic was hinged on the prospect, should the easterners declare the Biafra republic.
While the Yoruba people respected Awolowo, Ndiigbo venerated the commands and the wishes of Ojukwu for their undying patriotism to their different regions. Ndiigbo were fighting to live, while Awolowo had announced a total naturalization of all the companies Ndiigbo had so much interests in, especially on the Nigerian side. His International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiation of fund was to fund the war in favour of Nigeria – his pay master. He didn’t stop there, he channeled some of the percentage of this fund into the National Bank. This bank was solely owned by the westerners. As a result of this, Yoruba people had direct access to loans for the purchase of the share interests taken away from Ndiigbo till date. Conversely, through these rigorous adventures orchestrated against Ndiigbo by Awolowo, Ndiigbo did not lose even a pin in the entire Yoruba land after the war, but they did in Rivers State that was supposed to be their brothers and sisters.
Although Ndiigbo didn’t lose property in the Yoruba-land after the war, but one of their own, who took the helm-of-affairs as the military president of Nigeria in 1976 took Ndiigbo less than a beast. This person was Chief Obasanjo. It happened after the death of Murtala Mohammed. The representations of Ndiigbo in the federal level were next to nothing. Courtesy of Obasanjo. A lot of people said that it was the hatred culminating from the Yoruba-race since during the war that made Obasanjo to hand power over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979, even when Shagari, it was clear in many quarters, did not win the election with the two-third(2/3) majority, as stipulated in the Nigerian electoral rules. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe – Igbo – was allegedly robbed in that election.
Going down memory lane of how Ndiigbo have been unjustly humiliated in the Nigerian state since forty years the war ended is a crying shame. In 1999, Dr. Alex Ekwueme emerged as the most preferred candidate in the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) primaries, but the same machinery that have been in use against Ndiigbo was used to float him out of the race in favour of the same Obasanjo. It was this same skimming out anything Igbo that converted Igbo businessmen into street hustlers, following "The harsh post-war economic policy” that was meted out against Ndiigbo. The distinguished President of the Senate, David Bonaventure Mark, allegedly chaired and rationalized the properties of Ndiigbo in the Old Rivers State. A "Statesman" like Chief Edwin Clarke has been fingered severally as a major beneficiary of the abandoned property, no matter how he has tried to exonerate himself from this situation.
Anytime Chief Clarke was brought into this issue of Abandoned Property, he sings lullaby to Ndiigbo, claiming that the statement is a blatant falsehood deliberately calculated to tarnish his reputation and to incite his very ‘good Ndiigbo’ friends to hate him. He would categorically state that he did not acquire any abandoned property in Port Harcourt and that he does not own even a kitchen or any property in Port Harcourt at anytime before or after the Civil War to this day. “It is indeed, a deliberate falsehood and malicious assassination of my character,” he would say. But what Clarke has refused to tell the world was that he moved to re-install Ijaw hegemony in Rivers State, even though that he comes from Delta State, in what many Nigerians have described as, “by all means necessary.” This followed his full support of Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State since 2007 the later was clamoured to have been imposed on Rivers people as governor, a man many have said was declared winner of an election in the court of law and installed as governor in an election, he did not contest.
One phenomenon that has kept the Nigerian state aghast about Ndiigbo is their skyrocketing socio-economic status, even when deprived much of Nigeria’s political positions. Ndiigbo are surmounting all odds in the Nigerian state without rehabilitative assistance from any quarters, locally and internationally. Upon their hard earned property seize in Rivers State, they are not leaving anything to weigh their entrepreneurial spirit down. The memory of the roles Awolowo played against Ndiigbo during the war has only deterred a progressive and prosperous Southern Nigeria and Nigeria, but people are just pretending.
In the later months of 2007, Ojukwu visited Rivers State. The issue of abandoned property unofficially characterized his visit. Many Nigerians were of the view that the Rivers State government might re-open the issue. From virtually all quarters indications were prominent that Ojukwu’s visit was to impress on Amaechi the need for a retroactive abrogation of the Abandoned Property Edict. There were also feelers that the federal government might be uncomfortable with the alleged move. This information was hinged on the fact that it could further heat-up the already militantly over-heated Rivers State. The issue was that Ojukwu seldom visits a serving state governor, so why Amaechi?
A lot of people feared that Amaechi, Ikwerre, may not move fast enough to repeal the land grabbed by the indigenes in Rivers State, because "... abandoned property was to prevent Igbo people from participating in the buying of indigenized companies in the 1970s. Remember that part of the abandoned property "law" was that Igbo landed assets in Port Harcourt could not be used as collaterals for bank loans. That was a master stroke after confiscating Igbo bank accounts and giving everyone N20...The fiction of abandoned property was embellished and maintained until 1996 when Abacha skillfully carved out Ijaw die-hards and the most ardent enforcers of abandoned property into Bayelsa State. It soon dawned on these Ijaws that actually, they owned nothing… my view is that this should have been called "Stolen Properties" instead of "Abandoned properties," said an observer.
Not even Spiff helped Ndiigbo to attain their “stolen property” back by the indigenous Rivers people. He was even alleged to have plotted with Obasanjo and the Federal Government to further hold unto the decision against Ndiigbo takeover of their property back. There has been doubt by many Nigerians over the speculation that absolutely nothing is to be gained from the purported review of the Abandoned Property. They allay their claims that the point was that the Rivers people kicked the Igbo nation in the stomach, while it laid prostrate on the ground, adding that such a review would have made sense in the 1970s, when Spiff was in office.
More were yet to crop-up from this issue, as many Nigerians were saying that the next aim of abandoned property was to award Port Harcourt to Ijaw henchmen as war booty and edge the Igbo people into the fictionalized enclave called East Central State with no access to the sea. The Ijaws accepted their task with unbridled zeal and this had two consequences (a) destruction of the port in Port Harcourt and the migration of Igbo import-export business to Lagos, Cotonou and other ports in West Africa (b) the destruction of the real estate sector in Port Harcourt and the flight of capital to elsewhere.
Nigerians have gone further to say that the Igbo nation has learned a valuable lesson from the abandoned property saga and moved on. Despite the suffering of individual property owners, the overall outcome has been positive. Ndiigbo have learnt to think home always. Alternative growth points have been created everywhere in Igboland - Asaba, Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba, Awka, Owerri, Umuahia etc. Igbo trading network in West and central Africa has diversified away from Port Harcourt, as its focus and has been strengthened rather than weakened. Abandoned property has also enabled the Igbo to be more realistic about the distribution of infrastructure in their country. Today, Owerri with its 5-star hotels, universities, wide streets, housing estates and Airport exists side-by-side with Port Harcourt. And Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AKIA) Enugu, will complement Port Harcourt international airport and Owerri, to give people more choice in the region. Abandoned property has thankfully re-oriented young Igbo away from unhealthy fixation with Port Harcourt and diversified development thinking in Igbo region.
There is a school of thought that says that those who owned abandoned property are mostly dead or have moved on. Any so-called review now is not for their benefit- more to sooth the conscience of those reviewing it that is apparently haunted by their treachery. Review or no review, Igbo people have moved on. This is one piece of theater that should be pointedly ignored by every worthwhile Igbo. But other people are of the opinion that even though that the owners of the abandoned property may have died, their wards can inherit the property. The late elder statesman Sam Mbakwe, former Governor of the old Imo State, is praised to have tried to handle the collective cases of the Igbo landlords in Port Harcourt, even though that there was rare significant outcome. The question now is why majority of the abandoned property on the Ikwerre land went not to the Ikwerre people but to those from the Riverine areas of Rivers State.
Majority of the people are asking for curtail of degrees of mutual suspicion and antagonism amongst all the groups involved in the war in one way or the other. According to them, the issues from the war have so poisoned the political atmosphere in Nigeria, corroding any traces of future political unity between and amongst the ethnic nationalities, which constitute Southern Nigeria. They are asking for the abrogation of the over past decades Igbo and Yoruba, for selfish and self-serving considerations, refused to bury their differences and chart a mutually beneficial political and economic course for Nigeria. They pray and believe that the death of Ojukwu will bring about the long sought peace.
Nigerians in many quarters have confirmed that Ojukwu is a General of the Peoples Army of The Republic of Biafra & General of the Army of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, son of the Richest Black Man of his time and also an Oxford Graduate, he was never and will never be a tribal warlord as Biafra is not a tribe, like Gowon and Obasanjo have painted her to to be. Gowon and Obasanjo should remember that Ojukwu joined NPN (Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba party), not NPP (Igbo party), when he contested for the senate. He was born in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria in November 4, 1933. He started his early life as a hero and died a hero. The Old Boys of CMS Grammar School, Lagos, King's College, Lagos, Epsom College, Surrey, England, and Lincoln College, Oxford University, England where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters degree in History, would be crying more than. He joined the civil service in the then Eastern Nigeria, upon his return to Nigeria in 1956; he enlisted in the Nigeria in 1957, and was posted to Nigerian Army depot, Zaria, as one of the graduates that joined the military during that period, though as a recruit. He had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Quartermaster General, Nigeria Army, by 1964. He was everything good until his death at 78. While Nigerians would be morning him greatly, he would be deeply missed by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), a political party he was its national leader. His death to Ndiigbo is like they are now abandoned property. But what can they say other than “Ojukwu farewell”.