In those days, any mention of the name Ikemba Front chilled the spines of some of his opponents. The name, to most people was another name for war. Confrontation between Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe, his direct political opponent in the race for a seat at the National Assembly always left their followers with bruises. Some regained consciousness in hospitals, while a good number ended up in graves.
Stories were told of how the senatorial candidates clashed at different places and on different occasions.
July 26, 1983 will ever remain a day of reckoning for leaders of the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP and Chief Emeka Ojukwu of the NPN. This particular day at Nkpor junction, Ikemba, the general of the peoples army scampered for dear life in the face of Nwobodo led youths of Jim’s Vanguard and NPP thugs.
Members of the Ikemba front were on the offensive. The whole episode was a re-enactment of the onslaught which characterized Nkpor Junction when the federal troops and the Biafran side engaged themselves in a ding-dong battle to have control over the terrains and landscape of Nkpor in 1968.
The NPP in Anambra state had planned a campaign tour of Azigbo, Amichi and parts of Nnewi local government area. Jim’s convoy of vehicles was forced to stop at Nkpor junction by red cap chiefs and party chieftains from Nnewi and idemili local government areas who came to say welcome as was customary. The Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Enemchukwu led legislators and NPP supporters at the reception which heralded the entourage with a twenty one gun salute. After the greetings, the convoy was set for its destination.
The Vehicular order of protocol at the Government House then demanded that the pilot vehicle should lead the way. Since the driver didn’t know the terrains, Dr. Edwin Onwudiwe sped off in his Peugeot 504-salon car, followed by the pilot and press vehicles towards Obosi. Drivers of the first eight vehicles on the convoy were already accelarting down the road when suddenly the pilot car was communicated to make U-turn. The decision was to take Nkpor- Umuoji road to enable the team get to Azigbo in good time. By this time the governor’s car had stopped at Nkpor-Obosi junction, allowing the first eight vehicles from Obosi road to turn towards Nkpor-Umuoji highway. The first batch of Vehicles, including that of the governor was now moving up the hill, while another convoy later identified as Ojukwu’s entourage descended from Obosi towards Nkpor Junction, blaring siren in the process.
So, on his approach to Nkpor Junction, General Ojukwu and his convoy tried to force their way through. It was a mission impossible. The NPP convoy of vehicles was yet to properly fall in line. Before one could say Jack Robinson, it was explosion, followed by confusion and violence. Within two minutes, the deed was done. Several people had been maimed.
People realized that “the handshake had gone beyond the palm” when sounds of gun shots and smoke filled the air. Children, women and hawkers who made brisk businesses within the junction took to their heels, abandoning their goods and wares. People ran helter skelter while some struggled to take cover in uncompleted buildings and surrounding bushes.
Vehicles belonging to the Anambra state Government and Ikemba Front were up in flames. Four of the vehicles belonged to the Ikemba Front while government of Anambra state lost one heavy duty motor cycle HONDA 75 with registration number ANSG 3729.
Before most people could come to terms with the reality of the situation, Ikemba and his men were gone. Their remaining vehicles were seen speeding up the hills towards Obosi in retreat. They left behind about ten persons seriously wounded. Acid cans, matchetes, broken bottles were the weapons. One press photographer at the scene described the situation thus: “Meeen, this is “horrifying.”
The NPP counted its losses, assessed the situation and proceeded to take decision on the next line of action. An emergency meeting of the state executive council in conjunction with the NPP leadership was summoned. The meeting was held on the main road to Nkpor. It was a stormy session not different from such meetings always held in the EXCO chambers of the Lion Building, Government House, Enugu. The only difference was that journalists and interested members of the party and the public listened to the arguments on the floor.
Meanwhile, some members of the NPP youth wing, including Christian Ilomuanya, Damian Anajemba, Emmanuel Ezimo, Clifford Chukwu and Ignatius Obasi who was drenched in acid poured on him were all in pains. The youngmen were battered, blood gushing out from all corners of their body. They received broken bottle or matchet cuts. One Pius Agu was said to have attempted to grip the Ikemba and lost his palm in the process. One Felicia Okoye of Jim’s Vanguard had her beautiful face disfigured and her upper arm cut. The women sobbed uncontrollably. A woman political activist had to untie one of her two wrappers to cover Ignatius Obasi, the acid victim whose nakedness scared sympathetic young girls. One Emeka Nwankwo later identified as a member of the Ikemba Front was also seriously wounded.
Governor Nwobodo could not believe his eyes, more so when startling documents with coded wordings were recovered from one of the Ikemba Front (IF) burnt vehicles. Among the items recovered included identity cards, cheque books, letters stamped secret, one of which was signed by one H.O Onwudiwe and another one by Ifeanyi Ifebigh, introducing one Captain C.E Igboanusi to Ojukwu. Manuals on the use of pistols were also recovered.
Onitsha General Hospital, Toronto Hospital and Iyi Enu Hospital, Ogini were destination points for the victims.
Characteristics of him, Onwudiwe volunteered to lead battle against Ojukwu. “Let us pursue this man to Nnewi,” he roared, asking his driver to come closer. He vowed that Ojukwu should not go scot free, and recalled that on several occasions the two of them had done battle. “I am still battle ready,” Onwudiwe asserted.
The NPP candidate seemed to be telling listeners and the world that he had uncoverd what used to be Ojukwu’s myth. Jim was already nodding in agreement with Onwudiwe when Uche Udedibia, the resolute and dynamic Chief of Protocol intervened. With John Nwobodo, elder brother to Jim, Udedibia stoutly advised against what he saw as a suicide mission. John Nwobodo was not amused at the arguments. Other people who spoke suggested that the team should return to Enugu.
After counting the losses which took more than one and half hours, the team continued its movement to Azigbo through Umuoji-Nnobi-Awka-Etiti highway.
On the way, a Toyota panel van with bold inscription mark, “IF” approached from Igbo Ukwu end. On recognizing the car as one of Chief Ojukwu’s errand vehicles, ONwudiwe wasted no time, jumped off his car and pursued the panel van, shouting and cursing. All the vehicles in front slowed down for the occupants to join in the pursuit. The driver of the fleeing vehicle exhibited tremendous expertise in the way he steered the wheels and accelerated the car. He swerved left and right through the bad road up to hundred meters before the car was intercepted by an ESCORT Land Rover just behind Chief Roy Umenyi’s car. The nervous driver jumped out. He was not as lucky as his colleague on the passengers seat who jumped inside the bush before the van was forced to screech to a halt. NPP thugs and members of the party’s youth wing nearly tore the driver to shred. They descended on the driver, ostensibly to avenge the Nkpor junction assault on Jim’s entourage earlier in the day. From the look of things, it was apparent that the young man was heading to his grave. He was mercilessly dealth with, blows landing on his head and body from all directions. But the timely intervention of Chief Umenyi who rushed to the spot saved the driver from the angry thugs. By this time the driver was already drenched in his own blood. As soon as Umenyi succeeded in restraining the thugs on revenge mission from committing murder with his massive frame which he used to shield him, the errand boy, like a cricket which must disentangle itself from the captor, jumped into the bush. Governor Nwobodo, now at the scene, did not want the young man pursued. The car was immediately ransacked, some useful security items recovered and the car burnt.
At Azigbo, speaker Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, Chief Fred UNigwe representing Nnewi East constituency in the House of Assembly and a crowd of NPP supporters were on hand to receive the governor and his team, not knowing that all through the afternoon the entourage was engaged in “warfare”. After a brief tete-e-tee with some community leaders, Jim Nwobodo shelved all protocol and mounted the podium. He did not say much except to narrate his ordeal at Nkpor junction in the hands of a senatorial candidate whom he contended was being backed by the NPN federal government to torment “my good people of Anambra state.” Of course, the people replied and shouted words of encouragement. Within few minutes, Jim Nwobodo and the people he came with were gone.
That evening the NPN strongman and Biafra’s war hero told NTA’s audience that Governor Nwobodo planned to assassinate him at Nkpor junction on his way to Ogbunike. The Ikemba who sat beside a vehicle which had its windscreen smashed, apparently during the violence under reference stated that he had earlier held a campaign rally at Ojoto before he headed for Ogbunike for another round of rallies through Obosi.
Said he: ” I had earlier addressed a rally at Ojoto. And on my way to Ogbunike, I made a flag stop at Obosi.”
The General paused: He seemed to try to catch his breath.
“As I was approaching Nkpor junction from Obosi, I noticed a convoy of vehicles ahead of us. I saw what looked like an armoured car with two satellites on top. I sensed danger ahead, then, I instructed my men to maintain a close formation so as to avoid a caught off by the advancing convoy.’’ The Nnewi Chief who said he was speaking from Ogbunike accused Chief Nwobodo of blocking his route in an attempt to assassinate him.
Next day, Nwobodo challenged the NTA which formed part of Ikemba’s entourage to show film report of the Nkpor confrontation. He denied Ojukwu’s allegation and accused the general of carrying war to his doorstep.
Today, I recall as if it were yesterday that on the occasion of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari’s camalign tour to then Anambra state before the Nkpor incident, Ojukwu had promised to send Nwobodo packing. He was offered opportunity to speak at Polo Field. Cannon shots boomed in quick succession to herald his speech: “Can somebody run to Government House, Enugu and tell James Donatus Nwaogbodo (Jim IfeanyiChukwu Nwobodo) not to panic, that Ikemba is only sneezinnnnnng.”
Ojukwu, the master of rhetoric did not stop there: “By the time I storm the Lion Building, all occupants will run away through the back doors and windows.” The crowd cheered.
But Jim Nwobodo refused to let go. He replied. Venue: Federation Hall, Hotel Presidential, Enugu. It was a world press conference with the title: OJUKWU: FRIEND OR FOE?
Apart from journalists, party men and women thronged the then booming 5-Star hotel located in the heart of the Coal City. The Governor said so many things and described the Ikemba as a coward who ran away from Biafra when it mattered most.
“By the powers confered on me as the Executive Governor of Anambra state, I Chief Jim IfeanyiChukwu Nwobodo, on behalf of the good people of this state hereby confer on Mr. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu the inglorious title of OGBOSO 1 of Igboland for his cowardly escape from Biafra when the federal troops came calling. The crowd cheered. Ogboso 1, Ogboso 1 rent the air.
Nwobodo recalled that Ojukwu had shortly before commencement of the war boasted that, “No power in black Africa can subdue Biafra, that even the grass will rise and fight.” He made a derision of the General for bolting away without living up to his boasts.