Ekerete Udoh, Nigerian journalist and a friend of the Ojukwus, interviews the widow of Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Bianca Ojukwu. She allows some insight into deeply personal, previously not explored by the media, matters of her life with one of the most prominent figures in Nigerian post-independence struggle for nation-building.
In this part of the interview, Bianca Ojukwu speaks on coping with her life after husband’s death and her views on remarrying.
Bianca Ojukwu on her life after Ojukwu’s death
“It was almost another full year of condolence and commiseration, and when that was over, you now had to ease yourself into a new life. And I consider myself particularly lucky, because it was a transition into a new life, new opportunities, new experiences, because, after the mandatory period of mourning, I now took up the appointment as the Ambassador of Nigeria to the Kingdom of Spain, which has been particularly rewarding. I am not just the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain, I am also Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the World Tourism Organization, which involves a lot of traveling. So, joggling the responsibilities of these two roles has made it a lot easier to cope.
“I consider myself lucky to have had him. He loved me tremendously. As I said in my tribute, he was not just a husband, he was also a friend, a mentor, and I was very protective of him. … We had such a strong bond, and I was involved in every aspect of his life. It was like two people living one life.
“It had been very challenging, but I would say that having known him so well, being able to decode, identify and to predict what his reactions would be to any circumstance made it a little easier for me. Because a lot of the organizations and communities that he was so deeply involved with feel they can count on me and expect me to play important roles – organizations like the Biafra War Veterans, among others, the Ofalas, the Igwes, the new yam festivals, and, of course, same of the institutions and research centers that he was linked with, especially those abroad, because there are so many Igbo groups abroad.
“When I saw him operate, I realized that he was cast in the mould of the revolutionaries, people like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro. He was very spartan in his way of life. He would always say to me: money is not something that you keep as a form of luxury but something you spend when you need it. He was not materialistic, money will come and go, but one’s ideological beliefs and core values remain sacrosanct. He was very much concerned about the enthronement of the ideology in the party.”
Bianca Ojukwu on staying with Ojukwu in his last hours
“I remember when doctors were asking me to leave the room when things got quite bleak, and I told them I could not leave. They thought I was getting too emotional. I told them if I didn’t leave him during the best of times, I couldn’t leave him now. I told them he was not going anywhere as long as I was holding his hands. The most traumatic point was when he could no longer hear me. Even when he was struggling to stay alive, whenever he heard my voice he would look up and smile. But when he could no longer hear me, I knew it was over, and that was very traumatic. I didn’t quite expect that the exit would be so swift.
“When they wanted to take him away, I refused and asked them to give me some time alone with him. I had some hours to reflect on our lives, and it was difficult to imagine that he was gone. Even to the Igbo nation itself, they are finding it difficult to believe that he is gone. While he was in exile, they knew he would be back at some point. But, unfortunately, this is a final exile, and it is hard to endure. It has not been easy, because my role was almost like an appendage.
Bianca Ojukwu on prospects of remarrying
“People marry, I think, not just because they need to come together, live together, raise family together. It is a rite of passage, and I think I have fulfilled my part. … I have gone through marriage, lived with what I consider a wonderful man who gave me 23 years of happiness, of fulfillment. I literally felt I was the luckiest woman to have had a man who gave me utter dedication and, above all, wonderful children. So my pledge to him is that I will devote my life to taking care of our children, raising them properly, teaching them those ideals that he cherished and held very dear and trying to carry on his legacy. So I don’t have any compelling need to remarry. And, in any case, my time is very limited; so I am trying to channel it properly towards raising my children.”
Bianca Ojukwu on her personal life since her husband’s death, and handling men’s romantic interest in her
“Nigerian men are not aggressive. They may be aggressive in business, in their career pursuits, but in that particular area of aggressively pursuing a romantic interest, I have been very impressed by the level of decency and decorum they project. … They have treated me with a lot of respect, deference. They have been protective in a way as if to say this is a treasure that we must protect. …
“My husband’s friends call me regularly to see how I am doing. I mean a lot of widows complain that that they have issues with people proposing to them. But in my own case, I must say that I have been lucky to have wonderful support system based on respect and a sense of protection. If that is a function of the respect they had for my husband, I don’t know.
“When I travel abroad, I also meet Nigerian men who are respectful. I believe that it also depends on the woman’s attitude. Sometimes, we lay blame at the doorstep of the men. But the fact is, that if you are engaged in your work, if you are a woman who has a sense of purpose, regardless of the fact that you operate in a terrain that is dominated by men, once you can hold your own, it will be difficult to fall into that quagmire where you feel you are being propositioned, or your gender is playing a derogatory role.
“Once you are not making excuses for bad performance, or not looking for a man to cover for you, for your inadequacies, once you are able to let you work speak for you, it’s a lot easier to survive and live a life of dignity. And once you don’t present yourself as a weak and defenseless woman, one to be pitied and really cuddled by a man just by a virtue of being of a weaker sex, then it’s much easier to live a life that is not being truncated by those pressures.”
Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (4 November 1933 – 26 November 2011) was Nigerian military officer and politician. Ojukwu served as the military governor of the Eastern Region of Nigeria in 1966, the leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra from 1967 to 1970, and Nigerian politician from 1983 to 2011. His wife Bianca Ojukwu has been appointed Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain.