Enugu — Juventus Chijioke Ojukwu is President Mohammadu Buhari's course mate in the 1962 set of the Nigeria Army. He was not reabsorbed into the Nigeria army after the Civil war but he later went to the House of Representatives in 1979, a stint that was aborted in 1983, interestingly by a military coup which involved Mohammadu Buhari who eventually became Head of State.
The man was popularly called Major Ojukwu in the Biafra . In this interview, Ojukwu didn't want to talk about the civil and the Nigerian army. However, he spoke about the Buhari he knew, what Buhari did as General Officer Commanding GOC in Jos, the School certificate saga and bared his mind on the perception that Buhari disliked the Igbo. Read on.
Could you recall what growing up was like?
I am from Awka Etiti in Idemili South local government area of Anambra state. I didn't grow up so much in Awka Etiti, I spent most of my adolescent life in Warri, then it was in Western Nigeria, now Delta state. From Warri I went to Kings College Lagos, and that impacted very much on me with regards to my views about certain things in the country. I cannot be called really a home grown person in terms on ethnicity. From Kings College I went to the Military. I went to Nigeria Military Training College, NMTC in Kaduna in 1962; that was what metamorphosed to Nigeria Defense Academy. We normally spent between six to seven months there before being sent abroad. From there I attended Advanced Military training in Canada after which I was commissioned into the Nigeria Army.
At what point did you leave the Nigeria Army?
It's complicated. Officially I left the Nigeria army because of the civil war when those of us from the eastern extraction came back to the then Eastern Nigeria. We were in the Biafran army, but at the end of the war we went back to the Nigerian army at various levels. Some of us who had been in Nigeria army were discharged, some dismissed, some reabsorbed and they started rising again.
Were you reabsorbed?
Did you reapply?
It was not a question of reapplying, the government decided who or who not to reabsorb. A committee was set up by General Yakubu Gowon to decide who to take and who not to take, according to the government; it depended on one's involvement in the civil war. In my own case I wasn't reabsorbed. Unfortunately, I was retired.
You must be a course mate to President Mohammadu Buhari if you were of the 1962 set.
That means you should know him very well?
I know him pretty well (laughs), I've said this several times, I know him. We joined the Nigeria army as cadets. We did our school certificate the same year though not the same school. We entered the army the same time, we were commissioned the same year and I know him very well.
What kind of a person was him by the time you met him?
Well, I wouldn't say I knew all my colleagues in the cadet at that time, but Buhari happened to be one of those I knew pretty well, not because he is the head of state now. I was an athlete as a long distance runner and Buhari was a long distant runner too. We used to do the cross country and he was one of the tough ones. You see him looking as if he is going to die tomorrow but he was a very strong and tough person. I interacted with him like other cadets, northerners, easterners, westerners; he was one of the people I knew very well.
What was he like in academics?
Buhari was a bright chap. All these bogus talk about him not having been to school and not having certificate is all rubbish. By the time we entered the Nigeria Military Training College, letters came from our various principles to attest to our qualifications. Nobody, and I repeat, nobody asked us to present our certificates. I came from Kings College and nobody asked me of my certificate. Buhari came from one of the very good schools in the north and there was no such thing as present your certificate.
Don't you think his military background affected his leadership style as President?
I would say so in his first outing as military head of state but this time around, no. All of us get affected by our backgrounds, upbringing or whatever. However, the matter is, was the person affected positively or negatively? In the case of Buhari I would say positively and if I were to be head of state today it's the same thing they will say. We were disciplined people in the military, we were punctual, we imbibed the spirit of being truthful and honest otherwise you were kicked out. So somebody who has been a soldier and apply those positive attitudes to governance, you don't call such a person a dictator because he is doing the right thing the way he knows it. The military is a good development ground for leadership. A good number of world leaders were military people, Kennedy, John Mac chain who would have been President, you can name them. So for the fact that somebody had been in uniform does not make him a dictator.
Would you say President Obasanjo was wrong in pointing out many flaws in his style and management of the economy?
I won't say Obasanjo was right or wrong because I don't know what he predicated his statements on. You know Obasanjo says a lot of things. I happen to know him as well. He knows me and I know him. He was my senior and I can't pass a judgment on somebody who was my senior in the military but I am inclined to think he was not right.
Did you see him as somebody that is an extremist in terms of religion as some people accuse him of now?
The Buhari I knew was never a fanatic then and I still don't see him as one now. What I can say is that he is a serious religious person. As a Muslim, he is a serious religious person, then and now. There are some of my northern and western friends who say that one of the reasons I am their friend is because they see me as a serious religious person. In 1982-83 when he was commanding the 3rd armored division in Jos, I was then chairman army subcommittee of Defense in the Federal House of Representatives and we were touring military divisions and in his command somebody complained to me that Buhari as GOC should take it easy on his religious attitude, that if as Christian somebody in his command did not go to church on Sunday Buhari would throw him to guardroom, same thing to a Moslem who didn't go to mosque on Friday, yet religion is a freedom of choice.
So during dinner I brought it up with him and he got angry. He said JC I am surprised that you as a serious Christian would say such thing. He said he would not work with Godless people and that is Buhari for you. It's not fanaticism and that has continued, so I don't think he is a religious bigot, he doesn't discriminate. People don't know that a good number of his staff are Christians. His steward in Kaduna is a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic church. I was informed that during the Christmas seasons he brings people to come and sing Christmas Carol for him.
Again he is accused of being an Igbo hater, is that correct?
That is far flown, I cannot subscribe to that. He is not an Igbo hater. Somebody who is an Igbo hater could not in two occasions had chosen his running mates from Igboland, that is Chuba Okadigbo and Edwin Umezueoke and he believed in these people. When he was head of state his Attorney General was an Igboman. The present Foreign Affairs Minister who is like Secretary of State is an Igboman but people are looking at plum offices for the sake of making money. So he is not an Igbo hater.
Look at his recent appointments, my state, Anambra, has two ministerial appointments, some states have one. He is not an Igbo hater and I can use this opportunity to tell many of my people that love begets love, he doesn't hate our people. It's just that our people play bad politics.
Why can't he appoint Igbo into security hierarchy?
I cannot answer that question. I won't defend everything but when it comes to security appointments, the Man at the helm of affairs knows who and who to appoint. I don't think it's based on ethnic considerations.
How can the Igbo benefit from the Buhari administration?
The first thing is to define our objectives, if our objective is to be part of governance, you behave in a way that should make us part of governance. We should make contributions by being objective, and be a party to the political organization.
There is something you must grant somebody and that is his personal lifestyle; that personal life style may not be pleasing but it may not be wrong. One way is by being friendly; at the moment you cannot be so antagonistic to a system and you expect that system to invite you. The acrimony and the antagonism are too much! So I ask our people, what's our objective? If your objective is to make noise, abuse somebody and level all kinds of insinuations and falsehood and fake news that goes viral and they tell you I saw it on internet what do you intend to achieve?.
The one that pains me so much is from the elite, university lecturers, Professors. When you ask them the source of their story they say it's on internet! I was discussing with one, do you know an Igbo professor said that the person in Aso Rock is Jibrin and not Buhari? I am telling you, recently! He said he was cloned. If our people want to be part of it and we deserve to be part of it because it is our country we have to work for it.
We are part of this country and we deserve it, but we must work towards it. Bishop Okoye in a homily during the celebration of solemnity of Blessed Mother Mary, a world day of peace, said if you want peace, that you must desire peace, pray for it and work towards it. You cannot say you want peace and everything you do is antagonism, antithetical.
So if we say we want to belong, we behave like people who want to belong, who mean well. Some people accuse him of saying five percent or whatever and some say Igbo did not make mistake in their voting. Who is saying you made mistake in your voting?
As you make your bed, so you lie on it. An enlightened person cannot be too emotional or sentimental, without facts. The solution you want to arrive at may not be pleasing to you but it's the correct one if you analyze it. Our people are so emotional and I wish we could have a forum to talk to our people, we must find a way to get back into the system.
Are you saying the Igbo have not integrated well into Nigeria since the war ended?
Truth must be told. We have not been properly integrated
Is it by Igbo making or by external forces not integrating the Igbo?
Both! There are Nigerians, certainly not Buhari, who still see us as defeated people. Obasanjo said it will take 200 years to reintegrate and I tell our people it's either we are Nigerians or we are not but for now we are Nigerians and so we should behave like Nigerians positively.
Yet the Igbo complain they are not treated as Nigerians?
How? I've told you that there are areas where some people are reminded that they are war victims, subtly, you may see it in offices, it's not pronounced, after all Britain doesn't have a written constitution but I must repeat that I have not seen Buhari say that or do that and I know him. Again, our people do not help matters, we must stand up to be counted and not just complain all the time.
What do you want Igbo to do?
In practical terms I want the Igbo to change their attitude, the attitude of antagonism against the present government.
But the Igbo did not attack previous governments, don't you think there is a reason they have grudges against the present government?
The previous governments were not same as the present government and if I must be partisan, I can tell you that the PDP had brilliant intellectuals, the good one and the criminally minded. PDP knows how to use the media; it was a terrible organization that believed in looting. It's not common to them alone but over the years the PDP institutionalized corruption.
The human nature is inclined towards evil and PDP made it comfortable and easy for many people to go that way to share the money. So over the years life was easy for people who wanted it that way and suddenly PDP was out of power. Buhari was not attacked when he contested previous elections until 2015 when they knew he was going to win. So the PDP now contrived a method of using the media to place a black tag on anybody who was there and the ordinary persons bought it without examining it. It turned out at the same time the social media went wild.
Our people became strongly antagonistic to Buhari and the APC, an antagonism that was not there previously. So some people in APC said after all these people did not vote for us, why should we reward them. The way forward for our people is to sit down and reexamine ourselves and see where we went wrong. We are behaving as if we didn't go wrong anywhere and we are not saying we went wrong everywhere but we must admit we went wrong somewhere. You see we are made in God's image but because of our original sin, man's image has been distorted. So our people should join the APC, let me be blunt, as part of the way forward.
We must understand the nature of Nigeria, the country is so complex. If you want to remain in your cocoon since you know it all and the other man is a bush man, he doesn't know anything, he didn't go to school and all that and the votes are what determine this thing, if you think you know it all, go and convince other people to join hands with you so that you get the power. It is like people saying in 2023 it will be the turn of Igbo man. Look, it is said that all is fair in war but that does not mean you should support evil. Our people should change their mind set, you don't have to be a card-carrying member of APC but if you see the truth say it, if you hear something ask questions.
Will joining the APC guarantee a president from Igbo extraction?
Nothing guarantees anything in politics. 48 hours is enough to change everything before election. You know hard truth can hurt. In any case you want to join APC now for 2023 and what have you brought on the table?
Are you foreclosing the Igbo presidency in 2023?
No, I am not! It can still be achieved. I suggest we go back to reexamine ourselves, it can still be achieved. After looking inwards, we lobby and lobby means convincing the other person. We have credible Igbo leaders but they are not vociferous. There are people who have descanted about the quality of leadership the Igbo have now. We need to read out to all parts of the country, we have friends everywhere. I have friends in the west; I have friends in the north. Most of those we have as Igbo leaders now are those who were born in Igbo land, schooled in Igbo land, they have not properly interacted with people. In the 50s nobody asked you where you came from. When I went to Kings College, I was the only one from the mid western Nigeria.
My headmaster, an Urohobo man celebrated it in the streets of Warri, my piki pass kings college ooh! We don't have that now. The west aligned with the north to get to power and all these years they were not in power they didn't cry of marginalistion, they didn't abuse people but they went back to the drawing board.
Our people are used to grandstanding and it is not helping us. They say yea! Macho! This is our man, he is abusing this man properly; but that's not leadership. So we need to reach out and that's the way forward, a deliberate effort to get your audience, it's not by chance. There are Igbo that have friends in far not, in Adamawa and so on, who can also influence others. There are some northerners who say terrible things about us; they say our people say terrible things about them. One challenged me and said have I ever seen any northerner that challenged Zik? However, he said but we have continued to abuse Sarduna, Buhari etc. The solution is that we have to reach out and make friends.
Do you think the body language of President Buhari indicates he will hand over to an Igbo in 2023?
The body language, the body chemistry or whatever you call it, if tomorrow the Igbo say they what to see Buhari he will receive them. The terrible thing is that some people think that all Igbo are antagonistic to this administration but there are people who are well brought up. There are those that want to please the crowd and it's not right. If our people will choose what I am saying, they have to see Buhari. There is a book called she stoops to conquer; the kid goat bends down to suck the mother's breast. We must come down; some people say it's going to deflate my ego, which ego? Humility is the root of all virtues. If we reach out you may be surprised 2023 we may get.
But do you agree it was high time an Igbo became president of Nigeria?
Why not? I am not a tribal jingoist. My outlook is broad but sadly Nigeria has regressed in terms of ethnicity and it was not so before. I believe in merit, I would have said so before but I am saying that now. Igbo is a major tribe and you cannot push the Igbo away, but I am saying you can get it through negotiation, persuasions, not through demanding, not through threats.
What is your opinion on the issue of corruption?
Corruption is at the beginning, the middle and the end of our problems. It has eaten deep into the marrows of our people that if you want to fight it, it will fight back. It is because of the fight against corruption that some people are against this administration. Lawyers should be careful of supporting evil under the guise of rule of law. Tunji Braithwaite in his PhD thesis wrote about the Ten Commandments and as a Christian I want to stand and be counted. Don't follow the crowd and I don't condemn the crown when they are right.
This is the first time any government in Nigeria is trying to do anything about corruption. Obasanjo tried in his own way but this is the first time people are running after yahoo boys, oil bunkers. However we have to go back and start fighting corruption from the families and schools because there is breakdown in family values. I arrested a police man when I was in class two, on my way back to Warri, at Okitipupa. I saw our driver giving the police six pence and I intervened. The people inside the bus said this boy you no go let us go? So we have to go back to the roots and conscientise people. The churches and school should play their roles.
What is your view about restructuring?
When something becomes popular in the market place everybody talks about it. Restructuring means many things to many people, for some it means going back to the regions and for some it means getting what is due to us. Restructuring will not help resolve Nigeria problems. What we need are honest people to lead us, let us restructure ourselves first.
Don't you think that devolution of powers will also help in reduction of corruption in the country?
I agree. It may help if the people change their mindset. There is corruption everywhere. In the 50's there was a war between the Urohobo and Itshekiri and the Urohobo decided not to sell food stuff to the Itshekiri but the Igbos said no and were buying food stuffs from Efurrun to go and sell to the Itshekiri at no profit but this cannot happen now. What has brought us to thus far is Godlessness. Let me concluded with my serenity prayer: when all is said and done, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the ones I can and the wisdom to know the difference.