Our Case Against Debe Ojukwu
Ike Ojukwu an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and eldest son of Professor Joseph Ojukwu, the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s brother speaks with Bala Dan Abu, GM editorial, Maureen Chigbo, general editor, Chris Ajaero, deputy general editor, Anthony Akaeze, assistant editor, Dike Onwuamaeze, principal staff writer, and Sebastine Obasi, senior staff writer, on a wide range of issues concerning the Odumegwu-Ojukwu dynasty and the crisis therein. Excerpts:
Newswatch: What’s your reaction to the story that was recently published in Newswatch?
Ike: I just want to clarify some points that were made there. The family has felt that private family issues should be kept private. But this is almost like a culmination in a series of, I won’t call it misinformation, but news that needed clarification. And so I thought I would avail you of my own perspective. I do have full authority of my family. I am a senior member of the family although fortunately, you have elderly people in the family. My father is in his late 80s. My uncles are in their 80s. So, I, in my early 50s, may feel like a small boy but I know that I’m a senior member of the family and I speak with the full authority of the family. And so, the purpose is to clarify certain points, that if not clarified, will keep being repeated and some people may get to believe them. Your main story says: “War in Ojukwu’s family.” I know that if you say “there’s peace in Ojukwu’s family” it would have been better. My grandfather died in 1966. I had travelled to Nkalagu with him that same year. The second time he went, unfortunately he had a heart attack and died. We lived in Lagos, Lugard Road, while he lived on Hawksworth. I was schooling at St Saviours and later in Corona and almost every other day, we were at his place. So, even as a very young child, I could give you a little insight into his life and, living with my father and mother throughout that time, I can show you some of the gaps and clarify a lot of the facts.
Newswatch: So, what aspect of the story do you want to react to?
Ike: First, the description that there’s war in the family…
Newswatch: Are the family members not quarrelling?
Ike: No, not at all. I lived in Biafra as a young boy during the war and I still know what the air raids and the anti aircraft were like. So it’s not war. Number two, when you say war in Ojukwu’s family, it has to be established that the people at war are members of the family, first of all. Secondly, there are certain things that are said there, that are totally inaccurate, like when somebody tells you that this particular house belongs to an individual. I have a gazette from the federal government releasing the property that clearly states it belongs to Ojukwu Transport Company. So, there are so many factually wrong information. There’s a question I saw in the interview where you said “is it true that your father tried to corner the property for himself” and the individual said, no, that it belongs to him. Not one of these properties belong to Emeka Ojukwu, my uncle. They belong to the company, Ojukwu Transport Company and the gazettes prove this and even he acknowledged that. Second, if I tell you that my grandfather had five wives, and I tell you their names and show you their pictures — of the ones I have, then it’s very clear. Then if I go on to tell you that my uncle said, on a certain date, and on another time… that he called a family meeting and said, if anything happens to me, this is my first son. And I mean senior members of the family. So that, if somebody grants you an interview and tells you he’s the first son, and you go along with it, it doesn’t do the man honour. Now, the idea is that certain things are private and, in Igbo custom, it’s not everything you come out to refute because you fall into two traps. One, if it’s somebody that’s worth ignoring, you elevate the person’s importance. Secondly, like they say, it may be a case of dirty linen being laundered in public. But these things need clarification. If somebody tells you that 13 Hawksworth belongs to Ike Ojukwu, then I will tell you no, it belongs to Ojukwu Transport Company. If somebody tells you that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu is the only son, or the only natural son of his father, then I will tell you that in Igboland, the only way you can be somebody’s son is either money was paid on your mother’s head, or you had called your Umunna (family kindred) and tell them that oh, when I was posted to Okitipupa, this is the son I had o, he has come back. That’s the only way. If you carry a DNA lab and you look exactly like the person and the person has never said that you are my son, in Nnewi, you are not the person’s son.
Newswatch: The house at Queens Drive, Villaska Lodge, does it belong to Emeka Ojukwu?
Ike: It’s a family thing. Everything belongs to the family. There’s a gazette from the federal government that shows this, and you should be able to check this. When Lagos State government had an issue with General Ojukwu and he went on hunger strike when Lagos State wanted to eject him, the only way we got it back was that my father and engineer Emmanuel Ojukwu, phoned Rotimi Williams’ and Akintola Williams, family friends, to say that it belongs to our family. It belongs to Ojukwu Transport Company owned by the family. But when you asked a question and somebody says no, “he didn’t corner anything, first of all, he’s the owner of the property...” that takes me to the next point, and it’s important you have it there. My father is Professor Joseph Okwuabudike Ojukwu. He was born here in Nigeria. I don’t remember his primary school, but I know he went to King’s College. He not only went to King’s College, he went to Cambridge, my grandfather paid his school fees. This company we are talking about, he’s been a director since 1952. I have here the statement of accounts of the company in 1963 signed by him and my grandfather, Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu and the accountant, Akintola Williams, who’s still alive and is a very good friend of the family. He’s the head of the family, he’s the eldest son, and the compound in the village is his. I have five or six letters where the Ikemba himself said, you are the senior brother. So, it’s very clear. Now I don’t know anywhere in Nigeria where somebody will send you to Kings College in the 30s, send you to Cambridge in the late 30s, and you’ve been a director of his company for 60 years, and you are the only son that’s an executor of his Will (the other executors are Akintola Williams, my late uncle, Chief Okonkwo, he’s late now, honourable Justice Aina… he’s the only remaining sole executor of the state as at today)... The individual you interviewed, I don’t know anybody in the world that can come out and say that my uncle, the Ikemba, has ever accepted him as his child, not to talk of being the first. If you can produce one person… and I can give you my relatives contacts in Lagos.
Newswatch: Are you saying you don’t accept him as Ojukwu’s son?
Ike: There is nobody that will come and tell you that my uncle, Ikemba, has ever described the individual you interviewed as his child, not to talk of first, not one. That’s one. Two, I will go further…
Newswatch: Are you referring to Debe?
Ike : Sylvester Ude. That’s what I describe him as. Sylvester Ude … I’m telling you …Now, I am not Ikemba. My uncle was an ADO, Assistant District Officer, but there are certain things we read and we’ve been ignoring. But if you live in Nigeria and you are a journalist and somebody tells you that the Ikemba was A.D.O- and he was — in Udi in 1956 but he was too busy to run a family. You had a 23-year-old A.D.O in those days, and I wasn’t born then; an A.D.O in those days was almost like a governor. To say that a 23 year old man… we had 17-year-old men that got married… my uncle, the Ikemba, when the gentleman in question took a title in Nnewi around 2003, called his Umunna and told them, if anything happens to me, Diokpalam, my first son is, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu jnr, and sent for him outside. He came and he introduced him to them. That’s a fact. When the burial thing came up and you had all these… the family decided to just ignore things. Nobody is a fool. If they tell you, somebody says he’s in control of the family, he’s the first son, he’s the natural son, and on the day the person’s father is buried, he’s not allowed into the compound and you are a 57- year-old lawyer, and they tell you the person wasn’t allowed into the compound because of blackmail or court case, does that sound credible to you? Is that possible? The reason is simple. And then I will go into how he came to be managing the property. It is true that when he came out of the police, my uncle, Emmanuel, the engineer, who is a director up till now, decided to help him and felt that with his experience in the police, he will probably be able to help in retrieving some of the property and they had a management agreement which is in court, a management agreement from 1995 and was to last for 12 years, to manage a list of properties belonging to the family, collect the rents, manage the property and so on and keep 30 percent of the proceeds. The individual, in 12 years, which expired five years ago in 2007, in 17 years has not rendered kobo to the family. Now, everybody is taking it easy because it is a family thing, otherwise, it’s a very straightforward thing. If you brought somebody to manage your property and say take 30 percent… the normal rate is 5 or 10 percent for most real estate agents, but after 12 years, he turns around and says the family owes him 1.8 billion Naira, I don’t know what you call that. So, if you want to be polite, you can be polite. If you meet someone and say, were your parents married? Show me evidence… I will show you my own parent’s picture and tell you the time they were married. And if somebody tells you that A.D.O at 23 didn’t have time to be bogged down, that’s why they were not married, you should call it what it is. I do feel sympathy for the gentleman, and the family does feel sympathy for him too. Otherwise, when the burial thing was going on, he wasn’t involved. He formed his own committee, and each time I talked with the older members of the family, they said, no, no, why waste your time. People that know, know. I have mentioned my grandfather’s accountant, Akintola Williams, he is still alive, fortunately, and Rotimi Williams was also one of his lawyers. You heard, in the interview, my grandfather, my grandfather… I used to go to Eastern house, at Hawksworth, which is what it was called, every Sunday, to send him fruits, my grand father. The individual, probably, had never met my grandfather.
Newswatch: If you say that he is not Ojukwu’s son…
Ike: I did not say that… I never said that.
Newswatch: Okay, he did not recognise him as his……
Ike: I have given you enough to do your work.
Newswatch: Okay, how come your uncles handed over the family property to him to manage?
Ike: Oh, people make mistakes. You could have a company with your brother and you feel one is domineering or something like that and you say well, what’s the best thing to do; and you put in somebody that claims to be his son and he won’t be able to take it from him, given also his background as an ex-policeman. That somebody that gave you that interview…sounds so big, looks so big, and on the day your father is buried, you are not allowed into the compound and Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Jnr.) was the one that welcomed Jonathan, you think that’s an accident?
Newswatch: He explained it during the interview that he wasn’t there because his uncles said that because of the court case, he would not be allowed into the compound unless he withdrew it, implying that there is a pending court case between him and his uncles.
Ike: The management agreement is not made up; if you go to the court, you will get it.
Newswatch: What was the relationship between your father and the late Emeka Ojukwu?
Ike: The relationship is that they were brothers, I believe my father is almost 10 years older than him. They were in school together. They are of different mothers. My grandfather had five wives- first one is Ogbenyealumalize, who later on remarried. Second one is Madam Jenny Ojukwu from the Nwosu family, fondly called Mama Lota. Third one is Ifeoma, I believe, from Nwosu family. The fourth one, I believe, is Ijeoma and the fifth one is lady Virginia Ojukwu.
Newswatch: Which one is your grandmother?
Ike: My grandmother is Ogbenyealumalize from Ukpor.
Newswatch: How friendly was your father with his brother, Emeka?
Ike: They were very friendly, especially towards the end. Their lives are very different. My father is a consultant surgeon for many years and he is devoted — over devoted. He is over 86 years now, you have to seize his car for him not to go to work, even though he is retired. So, their lives were very different. He went to Cambridge University. His father was very proud of him that he was a doctor, as he was of the Ikemba. But they are very different people. Ikemba is Ikemba. He was a great man, a military man; he was ADO, his life was very different. My father had one wife, throughtout. My mother is late, a wonderful woman. So, they are very different. Towards the end, they attended meetings together. They did attend meetings together and many of the meetings were held in Ikemba’s place in Enugu.
Newswatch: What efforts were made by your family to recover the properties of your grandfather from the government while Ikemba was in exile?
Ike: Enormous effort. They finally released the property, I don’t remember when, but it was way after the war. It was very difficult, they wrote numerous letters and I have some of the letters, they wrote to FCO Coker who was the chairman of abandoned properties. Akintola Williams also helped a lot.
Newswatch: But were they able to recover any of those properties while Ikemba was in exile?
Ike: Because the seizing of the property… it was the company’s in the first place, it was not an individual’s. It was one person they wanted to punish, and that was why my uncle, Emmanuel, and my father, who were directors of the company, made numerous efforts.
Newswatch: So, how come those properties were recovered by Ikemba?
Ike: They were not recovered by Ikemba. I have the letters to the Lagos State government. It was held by Lagos State government, seized by Lagos State Government. It was the Abandoned Properties Commission chaired by FCO Coker. My father and uncle came down from Enugu many times. The holding of those properties, you know, was obviously political. When you say, how come he got them released, they were seized because of him. If a member of your family, because of the position he has taken, they seize your family compound, and they want that person to make a deal with them, and that person comes back from exile after some years, and they say, well, we pardon you and release them, are you going to say the family was lazy all these while? They seized the properties because of one person. I can name other Igbo people that had their properties seized and Rotimi Williams appeared for them, that had their property released earlier. This Queens Drive was part of it because when they evicted Ojukwu, they had to say it belongs to him, and the directors said it belongs to the company, and that became the test case, with which they released the rest. Now, you can say he had agreement with the then government, but it’s very clear, it belongs to the company. So, if somebody says he released it, all well and good. I will tell you this and give him enormous credit. One of the reasons why I admire my uncle, Ikemba, is that, if something is his, you can trust that he will fight for it. This was something that my grandfather laboured for, and if he fought and was able to get that from the government, that’s all credit to him.
Newswatch: How do you react to the allegation that, although those properties in Lagos and Port Harcourt were seized by the government, the ones in Onitsha and Enugu, your father allegedly put them up for sale, but people declined to buy the properties?
Ike: There is no property in Enugu. And do you have anything to show that he put it up for sale? I will show you evidence of a disclaimer on the person you interviewed, from the lawyer, telling people to stay away and not to deal with him, five years ago from the lawyer. You cannot sell something that belongs to the company; you can’t even attempt to sell it. I will show you evidence stating the names of directors and warning people that there is a running board and nobody should deal with anybody that says he is coming to collect rent. The properties are there now. I visited them last month. The guy managing the properties, Elodinmo, came to see my father last Friday and gave him a report. They are there. If you think that the fact that someone has been director since 1952, when his brother was probably 10 or 11 and is the only person mentioned in the Will... you think if that person wanted to sell family property that it will be just to sell a few things in Onitsha? Do you think so? You think that somebody who, as I am speaking to you, is the chairman of the board and the only executor of the estate, you think if that person wanted to sell the property in the 70s, he couldn’t have? The allegation is absolute nonsense.
Newswatch: When did these court cases begin between your uncle and your father or the larger Ojukwu family?
Ike: When you say court cases, there is a court case on the Villaska Lodge when he was evicted by Lagos State government and they wanted to involve my father as director and he had to be involved and Ikemba won. He won because Rotimi Williams and Akintola Williams advised on how to go about it and they eventually won and everybody was happy. And then we went from there. Now, there are different cases, I mean brothers have issues but when you say, Ojukwus at war, they are not of the same mother. They are wide apart in age. Their lifestyles are very different. So, as I sit here and talk to you, I have the facts, and then you have somebody who has no idea… I have told you the important things that Ikemba said very clearly, if you people look for me and don’t see me, my eldest son is Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Jnr), and he brought him and introduced him to the family.
Newswatch: When was that?
Ike: That’s about 2003, and the family meeting was Ezeubom family meeting.
Newswatch: Did your father ever go to court over his father’s property with Emeka?
Ike: Of course, of course. Oh, there are many cases.
Newswatch: Why and when did that happen?
Ike: There was a time when Ikemba and Lotanna were not directors and wanted to be directors and held a meeting and called themselves directors and my father took them to court and in the Appeal court they removed them as directors.
Newswatch: Why were they removed?
Ike: Because there was not proper quorum. You can’t just force yourself on… yeah, and eventually they were made directors.
Newswatch: In other words, there have been disagreements?
Ike: Of course. My father would list numerous Brazilian returnee families in Lagos that have been in court over the years. It’s nothing compared to his own. It’s because my uncle is prominent.
Newswatch: Do you know Professor Ukwu .I. Ukwu and his wife?
Ike: Yes, I know them very well. The wife, sister Comfort is my uncle’s cousin.
Newswatch: Was the wife teargassed at Ikemba’s burial?
Ike: To answer your question on the tear gas issue, there was a lot of confusion that day. You can never have everything perfect. It was a wonderful funeral and the family is grateful for the honour done the Ikemba. I seize this opportunity to thank so many people. I saw some people from Nnewi that I knew and they said they couldn’t come in because of the security. The security that day was totally indiscriminate. Even my father coming back from the church was almost pushed down. We apologise for that, but all in all, the security people were wonderful. There was the issue of crowd control. You think it was the family that could have done it? I greeted the lady you are talking about inside the compound the night before. I was at the high table with the other people when they brought that news that she was at the emergency room and then they released a car to go there and make sure she was fine. So, if somebody told you that it’s the family that tear- gassed her, where did they find teargas to spray her?
Newswatch: Was she taken to hospital?
Ike: I don’t know the details.
Newswatch: Some people feel that the tendency for the family to pander towards Emeka Ojukwu (Jnr) and to acknowledge him as the first son and to always say that his father recognised him as the first son is because he can be easily manipulated?
Ike: Don’t say, pander, no. If a man calls a meeting of his people and tells them, “if you look for me and you don’t see me, this is my first son,” it is not pandering. You could have members of the family that can overshadow that person but you can’t do that with Ikemba. You come and you tell me that oh, I did my youth service in Port Harcourt, that there are three people that resemble me there. If I go to Kirikiri this afternoon, I can see three people that resemble you; does it mean that they are your sons? So, when you say pandering to, be careful, it’s not pandering to. I’ve given you two major reasons. I don’t know where, in Nigeria, that a family company will give somebody a job to do and say take 30 percent for 12 years and the person hasn’t given… the contract ended in 2007 and the person has refused to move. And you expect when there’s a funeral, you welcome the person. There are times when you can accommodate people, but when you have somebody saying oh, I’m the only natural or first son… I’ve told you enough and I have enough evidence to debunk 80 percent of what you have in that interview. But even as I say that most of the elder members couldn’t care less. They say well, you people can write what you like, that the people that know, know. So, when you say, pander to, the man said who his first son is. Why do you say it’s pandering?
Newswatch: What I said is that the reason your family acknowledges Emeka Ojukwu (Jnr) as first son is because he can be easily manipulated, and that Debe cannot be manipulated?
Ike: Like what? Nobody fears anybody. We don’t fear anybody if you know where we come from. No, no. Everybody is responsible for his action. Don’t get something wrong. Let me tell you one thing. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the younger one, until his father died, I had seen him only once since the end of the civil war. That’s 42 years. That was when I came to deliver a letter to his father in Villaska and he was there. Now, if you are talking about manipulation, I don’t know. The individual you are talking about, I think was born in 1964. That’s Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (Jnr.). He was a commissioner under Peter Obi. I don’t know what kind of manipulation… manipulate him to do what? He’s not in control of any property, he’s not collecting rent.
Newswatch: There was an allegation, for instance, that he was manipulated into taking a title and declaring himself Ikemba, a way of getting his stubborn brother out of the way. And that it was the reason the government apparatus was used to deny Debe entry into the compound on the day of his father’s burial?
Ike: The manipulation, is it to give you rent or give you title? Secondly, the title, was awarded by who? Nawfia. Who’s from Nawfia? His mother. So, will we go from Nnewi to Nawfia? I have no control over Emeka Jnr.
Newswatch: With all these family politics going on…
Ike: That you have in most families…
Newswatch: Do you consider the fact that Ojukwu’s birth has something similar with Debe’s…?
Ike: (Laughs) You want me, even though I told you I worked in the media before, to fall into that trap? No, no, how do you say…how do you say that… I don’t know what your question is, I really don’t know the connection…
Newswatch: When the Ikemba died, who went to the Igwe in council to inform him about his death?
Ike: That morning, I was the one who informed my father. I was in Atlanta then but I knew. I was on the phone with his daughter the night before. They arranged and they had sent a message to my uncle in the village, Barrister Ude Ojukwu. The man is in Nnewi and you can confirm this from him. I name names. He’s in his 70s; he’s a lawyer. He was the one mandated to go and inform the Igwe. Let me tell you one aspect of Nnewi custom. When your father dies, it’s not you as a son that informs the Igwe. No. Go to Nnewi and ask.
Newswatch: I asked that question because days after the Ikemba died, the Igwe said that nobody had informed the council until the son…?
Ike: There’s a way you do things. Different parts of Igboland have slightly different perceptions. I don’t want to start telling you and somebody will go and say that Ike Ojukwu said the Igwe lied. Somebody may say I have not been officially informed, and that may mean there’s a particular person… you don’t send anybody, and there are particular things you may have to take because he’s a big chief not only the Ikemba of Nnewi, and so when somebody tells you, I haven’t been informed, that doesn’t mean they didn’t tell him, but you have to do it in a particular way.
Newswatch: During the interview with Debe, he said that his uncles went to Abuja with the aim of removing his father’s name from the list of board of directors of Ojukwu Transport Company. Is that true?
Ike: I am not aware of that but I will tell you that anybody that says that only displays a reasonable level of ignorance because you normally would need a board resolution and then the secretary of the company would submit that to the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja to change anything. So, I am not aware and I am not aware it’s possible.
Newswatch: So what effort are you making toward peace?
Ike: There is peace. I will ask my father to list you the names of big Yoruba families that had cases in court until all their monies finished.