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The late ’50s to early ’60s were exciting times in Nigeria. Chinua Achebe had just published Things Fall Apart. Wole Soyinka was back from Leeds and beginning to dazzle people with his playwriting skills. Fela Kuti was laying the ground work for what will become Afrobeat. A few years before, Tai Solarin had built May Flower School and was already spreading his gospel of educational innovation.

C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, the leader of Biafra—the breakaway nation that sparked a civil war in Nigeria during late ’60s— was part of this creative and intellectual scene.  He studied history in Oxford University and was expected to get a job in civil service and live the dream of colonial middle class life. He tried it, hated it, and went into the army. Those days, people who had degrees, especially from Oxford, just did not go into the army. Ojukwo was one of the first who did. 

He wrote a lot during the Biafra war. Many of his notes and speeches are collected in a volume titled Biafra: Selected Speeches and Random Thoughts. My indifference to Ojukwu and his generation of leaders changed when I started reading this collection—a work I highly recommend.

The collection contains detailed documentation of events leading up to the war, in addition to meditations on violence and revolutions, leadership and the nation, race and oppression, and his sense of Biafra as an innovative political idea. 

It’s sad, but Nigerians have become so disillusioned and cynical that they forget that there is so much in their past—a rich archive of people and ideas—from which they could draw inspiration. Nigeria has had some truly inspiring leaders its past. They were not perfect by any means, but they were thinkers, writers, and charismatic public speakers.

Ojukwu was one of them, as you’ll find in the quotes below. 





1. The history of the world is a chronicle of oppression.

2. Since oppression is maintained by force, it is only possible to remove that oppression by a counterforce.

3. The illegal regime in Lagos under Gowon has accused Biafra of playing politics with her people’s misery. Our answer is simple: “We do not play politics. We are not masochists; rather, we are a people who choose to hunger  a little to remain alive instead of feeding fat to become respectable corpses.”

4. We do not ask for pity. We make no apologies for the social phenomenon known as the Biafran revolution; rather, we proclaim with pride the inevitability of our struggle, the indestructability of our people, and the assured finality of our success.

5. Biafra is a child of circumstance…His existence and survival are always a marvel, sometimes bordering on a miracle. His life is a tribute to man, his courage is his endurance, his ingenuity is his humanity.

6. For unity to be meaningful it  has to be creative, not the unity of Jonah in the whale but the unity of holy matrimony. The first can only lead to defecation, the second to procreation.


7. If a leader accepts himself as already dead to society, there will be no reason for cowardice in his leadership. One thing that frightens leaders and lead them to a number of excesses is usually fear of death. No leader should fear death. In fact, you should accept the fact that from the moment of leadership you are sacrificed to death. Each subsequent day becomes a bonus for the preparation of one’s memorial.

8. What I have become, in this struggle is the mouthpiece of my people. I go where they push and no more. The day I think otherwise, the day I act otherwise, that day my people, without compromising the struggle, will find another person to express their aspirations.

9. We are humans. We live. We fight, fight because the decision to be free is a decision taken freely and collectively, because to become involved in violent struggle for freedom is the only honor left to an oppressed people threatened with genocide, because in the final analysis the only true bulwark against death is to live. Biafra rejects death…Biafra lives.


Images via The Economist 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

7 Responses to “9 Powerful Quotes by C. O. Ojukwu about History, Biafra, and Revolution” Subscribe

  1. Catherine Onyemelukwe 2014/06/02 at 10:05 #

    I agree that Ojukwu was a powerful and charismatic leader. He excited and inspired me in the lead-up and the execution of the Biafran War. But I’ve been listening to civil rights leaders in the U.S. who embraced non-violence as their response to oppression and I take exception to your second quote from Ojukwu – that oppressive force must be met with a counterforce. Or maybe I’ll interpret his quote to say that non-violence was itself a counterforce.

    In fact, I’ll quote Gandhi, who said, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” I think I’ll use this in my blog when I talk about the war.

    Mahatma Gandhi

  2. Oyin Oludipe 2014/06/02 at 13:30 #

    It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence, Ghandi also said.

    Ones like Ojokwu and Malcolm ain’t why our world burns. They are why our world doesn’t burn to extinction

  3. google 2014/06/17 at 20:10 #

    In the signature line provide a link back to your blog.
    Commenting is crucial to any collaboration, making sure that your voice is heard
    when it needs to be. This article explains what it is these systems actually do,
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  4. NAIJA TRUTH 2015/07/06 at 05:10 #

    The Authority in US and India during Lurther and Ghandi’s time did not kill the people they are oppressing in mass, they did not kill pregnant women and rip them of thier babies from the womb and laid it on thier chest but all these were what northern Nigeria maimed against Easterners and the authority in Lagos occupied by Northerners supported it and that was what Ojukwu was refered to. Should Ojukwu waited to declear that Biafra the easterners could have been wiped out. Dont compare the oppression in the then US and India to that of Nigeria where in the Nigerian case peoples life were being ended unnecesarily while that of US and India is just common oppression without killing the oppressors in mass. Pls dont compare the two, your common sense should give you a fair gudgement on this.

  5. Ogheneotsuko 2015/08/03 at 09:01 #

    Peace at any cost is not a solution to oppression. When you have an enemy bent on your annihilation it becomes imperative to fight back. One cannot sit back an watch terrorists kill his people and do nothing.

  6. Patrick Nnebedum 2016/12/05 at 09:04 #

    Catherine Onyemelukwe: if you are reading this, please spare a moment and read the book ‘oil, politics and violence’. My tribe still exists today because of his bravery and the struggles of our parents and grandparents who fought to live. Self defence or Counter-violence, whichever you prefer was necessary in the face of the pogrom and even genocidal atrocities of the Nigerian army and civilians against a people.

  7. Emeka Chris 2017/03/03 at 08:21 #

    My People are not tired, we can fight again. The narrative has not changed. The killings has continued. It is only a tree that will know it has been marked to be cut down an will remain on same spot. More Ojukwus has been born in Biafra land.

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