By Raphael James
It was on October 28, 1981, from his base in Ivory Coast, the former leader of Biafra, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was in exile in that country cried out against “obstacles to my plans to return home.” “I want to go home and put myself at the service of the people”, the 46-year-old soldier then turned businessman told a group of journalists in a rare interview in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.
Chief Ojukwu said that with the advent of democratic rule in Nigeria he had hoped that “there should be no more obstacles to my plans to return home.” “If today I am presented to the people of Nigeria in whatever capacity, I will win”, he confidently affirmed. “Nobody can challenge mv popularity with the youths in Nigeria.
The news went round and the next day October 29, The Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) former governorship candidate for Lagos State, Chief Adeniran Ogunsanyan said that former Head of State, Mr. Yakubu Gowon and Mr. Chwukuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, both of whom were dismissed from the Nigerian Army should both be pardoned and allowed to return to Nigeria. He said so on Ogun Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) during a current affairs programme, “Meet the Press.” An interviewer had asked for his opinion on whether Ojukwu and Gowon should be allowed to return home, as expressed by some people. “If the National Assembly thinks that there should be amnesty with the concurrence of the executive, why not?” he replied.
On December 28, the leader of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Alhaji Aminu Kano, joined in the plea that Yakubu Gowon and Emeka Odumewgu Ojukwu be pardoned. Alhaji Aminu said his party’s philosophy of democratic humanism did not favour the deprivation of anybody’s right to free movement and right to choice of abode.
Then it happened on May 18, 1982, President Shehu Shagari officially granted pardon to Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The next day May 19, barely 24 hours after Mr. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was granted state pardon, Nigerian border posts and overseas mission were alerted of the government directives. Then on May 21, Madam Grace Ojukwu, mother of the ex-Biafran leader, expressed profound gratitude to President Shehu Shagari and other members of the National Council of States, over the clemency granted her son. On June 3, the President’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Charles Igoh issued a press release on the regaining of military ranks by former Head of State, Mr. Yakubu Gowon and the ex-Biafran leader, Mr. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and said it was a matter for the Army Council and not for President Shagari.
On June 18, Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu returned to Nigeria at 11.55 a. m after about 12 years in exile. He was accompanied back by an 11-man NPN delegate led by Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. Just before he boarded his Boeing 727 aircraft from Abidjan, capital of Ivory Coast he said “Long live Nigeria.”
Yours truly was among the crowd in this photo above.