Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was born in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria, to Sir Louis Philip Odumegwu Ojukwu on 4th November 1933. At an early age, his father moved him to Lagos where he had set up a thriving Transport business. Ojukwu attended Kings College Lagos until the age of 13 when his father now sent him to Epsom College, Surrey, England. From Epsom, Ojukwu proceeded to the prestigious Oxford University where he bagged a degree and masters degree in History.
On his return to Nigeria in 1955, Ojukwus father, who had by this time become one of the richest men in Nigeria, offered his son a top position in his business empire, which Ojukwu rejected. To the consternation of his father, Ojukwu joined the civil service of the Eastern Region and was posted as an assistant district officer of Udi division, in present day Enugu state. In 1956, Ojukwu was tranfered to Aba. It was while at Aba that Ojukwu attended a party where he met a newly commissioned Army officer called Robert Adeyinka Adebayo. Robert Adebayo told Ojukwu that the Nigerian Army was desperately short of Army officers. Ojukwu noted this. A few weeks later, Ojukwu was promoted to District officer and posted to Calabar. On hearing that his son was posted to Calabar, Ojukwus father used his influence with the colonial authorities to cancel the posting. When Ojukwu heard of this, he angrily resigned and drove to Kaduna where he enlisted into the Army as a lowly recruit. When Ojukwus father heard he had joined the Army, he cut off his son and both men would not talk to each other for almost 5 years. The British military officers at Kaduna kept wondering what an Oxford graduate was doing as a common recruit in the Army and decided to send Ojukwu on an officer cadet course. Ojukwu went Eaton Hall Officers training course and small arms training School Hythe, both in England. He returned to Nigeria in 1957 and was commissioned a second Lieutenant. Ojukwu became the first graduate to join the Nigerian Army. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1958, Captain 1960, Major 1962 and Lt Col in 1964.
Ojukwu was commander of the 4th Battalion, Kano, when a coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was effected on the 15th of January 1966. Ojukwu’s refusal to join Nzeogwu was one of the major reasons why the coup eventually failed. The coup resulted in General Ironsi coming to power. Subsequently, Ironsi appointed Ojukwu military Governor of the Eastern Region.
Northern elements of the Nigerian Army staged a coup 6 months later on the 29th of July 1966 in which they killed over 300 Eastern Army officers, mainly Igbos. This green lighted a pogrom where over 50, 000 Easterners, mainly Igbos were murdered in broad daylight by Northern mobs. With the massacre of killing of Igbos all over Nigeria, mainly in the North, Easterners besieged Ojukwu and asked him to pull the Eastern Region out of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the highest ranking Northerner at the time, Lt Col Gowon assumed power. Ojukwu was bitterly against it stating that the most senior officer, Brigadier Ogundipe should be the rightful person to take over according to military tradition.
As the killing of Easterners continued in wave after wave of remorseless genocide, million of Easterners returned to the East and more pressure was put on Ojukwu to declare the Eastern Region a separate country. The then President Of Ghana, General Joe Ankrah intervened. He invited Gowon and Ojukwu to his Hiltop Mansion in Aburi, Ghana, for peace talks. On the 4th of January 1967, Gowon and Ojukwu arrived at Aburi and spent the next 2 days in talks. In the end, Gowon and Ojukwu reached a deal that was to be known as the ‘Aburi Accord’. In return for Ojukwu recognising Gowon as head of state and accepting Nigeria as one indivisible entity, Gowon agreed to 12 points which included the establishment of Regional police and Army, abrogation of decree 34, rehabilitation of Easterners affected by the pogrom, but most importantly, that Gowon would not change the 4 Regional structure of Nigeria unless the 4 Regional Military Governors of the time agreed with him. Essentially, the Aburi agreement turned Nigeria into a confederation of 4 Regions. Ojukwu and Gowon signed the agreement in front General Ankrah and shook hands. No sooner had Gowon returned to Nigeria than the full import of what he signed started to hit him. Northerners hated the agreement because it deprived them of what they wanted, the economic and political control of Nigeria. On the 26th of May 1967, Gowon broke the Aburi agreement by announcing Decree 14 which abolished the 4 Regions and replaced them with 12 states.
This he did without consulting anybody as stipulated in the Aburi accord. On the 27th of May, Ojukwu then convened the Eastern Nigeria consultative Assembly, a group that consisted of the leaders and traditional rulers of the 20 provinces that made up the Eastern Region. Ojukwu asked them to advice him on the way forward since Gowon had broken the agreement. The assembly met for 2 days and reached a resolution mandating Ojukwu to declare the Eastern Region a separate country. One of the members of the assembly, an Ijaw man called Frank Opigo, suggested the name “Biafra” to Ojukwu for the new country since the Eastern was once historically know by that name.
On the 30th of May 1967, Ojukwu declared the Eastern as the “Republic Of Biafra”