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Today in History: Who is Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu?

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We remember the Nigerian-born military leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who would have been 90 years old today – (born 26. November 1933) headed the unsuccessful move by Biafra to secede from Nigeria. Oxford-educated Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu joined the Nigerian army against his wealthy father’s wishes, hoping to play an integral role in the nation’s affairs once Nigeria had gained independence from Britain. Instead, due to his ethnic loyalties and political events, he became the leader of the Biafrans during a bloody civil war in Nigeria.

Although claiming some early victories, his forces fought against troops backed by Britain, Russia, and most of Europe. For three years, Odumegwu Ojukwu fought to keep Biafra from being annihilated. With supply lines cut, an estimated eight million Biafrans died slowly. After the civil war ended in 1970, Odumegwu Ojukwu lived in voluntary exile. He was invited back to Nigeria in 1982, and Nigerian leaders have sought his counsel as the African nation charts its future.

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was born in 1933 in Zungeru, a community in northern Nigeria, which was then a colony of Britain. He was the son of Sir Louis Philippe Odumegwu Ojukwu, one of the most successful businessmen among the Ibos, the largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Consequently, the younger Odumegwu Ojukwu received the best education money could buy. His primary education was at a private Catholic school in the Nigerian city of Lagos. Before he was ten years old, he was enrolled at nearby King’s College as the youngest pupil in the institution’s history.

Two years later, Odumegwu Ojukwu’s father transferred him to a school in Surrey, England, called Epson College to finish secondary studies. Odumegwu Ojukwu had a natural athletic ability, and, during his years in England, he honed his skills on the playing field when not attending classes. He served as captain of the rugby and soccer teams in school-sponsored sports. He also set the All England Junior record in the discus throw.

In 1952, Odumegwu Ojukwu was admitted to Oxford University. He majored in history, graduating in 1955 with honours. As an undergraduate, Odumegwu Ojukwu continued to pursue his love of athletics while developing outside interests in drama and journalism. He served as a leader in the Oxford branch of the West African Students Union during this time. At Oxford, he also met a female law student named Njideka, whom he later married.

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