by Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu
“Would Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe have seceded from Nigeria and declared Biafra’s Independence if he were in control of the situation. The answer is definitely NO. Would Dr. Azikiwe have worked out an accommodation under the Aburi Accord that projected a Confederation. The answer is definitely YES. General Ojukwu is General Ojukwu and Zik of Africa is Zik of Africa and never, never the twain shall meet. The above is a veiled and indirect response to the entreaty from John Okiyi viz: “I will write Dr. Mezu to weigh in and give us his honest view [about Dr. Azikiwe and General Ojukwu]. Our elders are still alive and can guide us.” There will be time to talk about Ojukwu, the war and Ojukwu’s return to Nigeria. I was privileged to hold a private and extended discussion with him after his return from exile. It would be inappropriate to delve into those discussions at this time.”quoted from “Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe,” by Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu, http://eboeville.ning.com/
After writing the above on November 16, 2011, little did I know then that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, born November 4, 1933 would die ten days later on 26 November 2011.
What would have been the nature and shape of my life, my forty-three years of marriage to my wife, Dr. Rose Ure Mezu, our family, the number of children (ten) we have? What direction would life have taken me, my family, the family of Dr. S. Okechukwu and Dr. Rose Ure Mezu, if, if my life and that of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had not intersected during the Nigeria-Biafra War?
“Are you married?” asked Ojukwu finally.
“No,” replied Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu. “But I have a fiancée. We were engaged on June 10, 1968.”
“You must get married immediately,” continued Ojukwu. “I am sending you to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, as Biafra’s Ambassador. You are a young man. I want you to travel with your wife. I have not allowed any Biafran diplomat or elder to travel out with their wife during this war – Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Kenneth Dike, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Pius Okigbo, Dr. Otue, Sir Louis Mbanefo, Chief C. C. Mojekwu etc. – If they leave Biafra with their wives, I know they will never come back to Biafra. You are different. You were abroad, joined us from there. I can trust you fully. Tomorrow, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will prepare your passport and that of your wife and the two of you will leave for Abidjan with the next flight out of Uli Airport. They will also prepare the necessary letters of authority.”
General Ojukwu did not even ask for my opinion. He seemed not to care whether I was from Owerri or Onitsha or Nnewi, or Calabar. He knew of my work for Biafra in Paris from all his emmissaries that came there. He probably saw something in me. Our ideas about the war, our fears about its prosecution were identical. We could communicate without talking. He was simple, calm and ponderous. He had no illusions about the daunting tasks ahead and the immense suffering of our people. He knew I would accept. I did accept. I was then twenty-seven years old. He was thirty three.
That conversation took place early in September 1968 at his Umuahia Bunker. I did not really want to leave Biafra again. I wanted to stay home and fight, fight and die if need be with my people. That was my second trip to the war-torn Biafra. I had made an earlier trip into Biafra in June 1968 in one of the night flights carrying arms to Biafra. I had traveled from Paris to Lisbon, Portugal where with the help of Biafra Special Representative, Mr. Ikpa, I joined a Biafra flight carrying arms to Biafra through Sau Tome. I was the Deputy Director of Biafra Historical Research Society, a pseudo-Biafran Embassy set up by Chief Ralph Uwechue and myself in Paris, Chief Uwechue as the Director, myself as the Deputy Director. Chief Uwechue before then was the Nigerian Chargé d’Affaires at the Nigerian Embassy in Paris who resigned his appointment and joined the Biafra struggle and pulled out with him, the French press and all the goodwill Nigeria had in Paris and with the diplomatic community.
The following day, as I went to arrange for the passports a Nigerian fighter jet shrieked across then came back and strafed us – the civilians below with relish and abandon. Lying low in the trench in front of the ministry, I could have picked out the Algerian pilot if I had a shot gun. I believe about seven people died in and around the Biafra Foreign Office Ministry during that raid. Two Nigerian jets came back in the afternoon that day, bombed again the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Information with disastrous casualties. My wife and I were quickly married (September 6, 1968) by Rev. Benjamin Dara, CSSp at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Umuokrika, Ahiazu, my wife’s home parish without a wedding dress and with about ten close members of both families in attendance. As we left the church, two Nigerian jets flew “ceremonially” past the Church. We learned later that a nearby busy market, Afor Oru, was bombed with disastrous consequences.
On September 10, 1968, a few days later, my wife and I left for Libreville, Gabon, from Uli-Ihiala airstrip, code-named “Annabelle” Airport, celebrated in 1970 in my historical novel: Behind the Rising Sun (William Heinemann Publishers, London, 1970). We stayed at Hotel Le Gamba and were received by then President Omar Bernard Bongo, another friend of Biafra. President Houphouet Boigny sent his private jet to pick us up from Libreville to Abidjan. We took along a Ghanaian, Mrs Sapara Grant, who was heading back home from Biafra. For a few weeks, Hotel Ivoire, Room 310, would be a new home for my wife and myself. That same week, my wife and I received the first batch of Biafran kwashiokor children as they arrived from Biafra and we flew them to Bouake and made desperate efforts to find them food and comfort. They spent the night in an elementary school open hall.