Thursday, 10 May 2018

Nnamdi Azikiwe: The Legend Who Came Back From the Dead

If we die and come back to life, 
we will certainly know the number of those who loved us. 
It is those who have been ill that could appreciate good health. 
If we had been poor in our first life, 
we will certainly know the value of eating delicious soup everyday
 –Hubert Ogunde
Let me start by telling you about Ade Love’s movie, Èyìn Òkú. I saw the movie at the National Arts Theatre around 1992. You don’t know Ade Love? Ha! Adeyemi Afolayan was one of the founding fathers of Nigerian Theatre. He was the father of the celebrated filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan. That Kunle is now regarded as a leading filmmaker shows that a fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Creativity runs in the Afolayan family.
Eyin Oku was a moving tale about a rich man [Ade Love] and his driver [Adewale Elesho]. They died in the course of a journey. The rich man was extremely generous whilst alive and he was always surrounded by family and friends who loved and adored him. On getting to heaven, he pleaded with the Almighty to be allowed to see what was happening to his family after his death. His prayer was granted. That was when he discovered that the people who claimed to love him for his generosity did not actually love him. His brother [Olafa Ina, I hope my recollection is correct] who was a major beneficiary of his wealth became the oppressor of his nuclear family. The driver was also allowed a peep into his own family. Like his boss, he was equally shocked by what his family members were doing when he was no longer around. 
The film and the opening quotation from one of Hubert Ogunde’s philosophical songs came to my mind  yesterday morning as I began to think about the legendary Zik of Africa.
Zik was one of the few people who were privileged to read their own obituary. It was in 1989. Nigerians woke up to hear of the demise of the legendary Owelle of Onitsha. Iya Agba described his death as ‘agbo-so-igba-nu’ - the heartbreaking news that will make you to throw away whatever you are holding at the time. Eulogies poured in from all over the world. It became a sort of competition to see who would describe Azikiwe with the most profound of epithets.
Suddenly the news filtered in. The man who planted the seed of nationalism in the mind of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was not only alive, he was in fact, hale and hearty! When I told Iya Agba that Zik was still alive, she replied that the legendary nationalist must be  Kokumo – One who refuses to die again. Zik responded to the news of his death with his characteristic humour: “I am not in a hurry to leave this world, because it is the only planet I know."
Azikiwe was larger than life. He ignited the fire of nationalism across Africa. The revered Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello stated in his autobiography that it was when he came to Lagos and met Zik in 1949 for the first time that he “began to see that we in the North would have to take politics seriously before long.”
To commemorate the anniversary of the death of the first Premier of Eastern Region of Nigeria, the first President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, the first President of the Senate of the Federal Republic, and the third Governor-General of Nigeria, Onigegewura went into the archives to bring you the following tribute published in his honour by the New York Times in 1996.

Nnamdi Azikiwe, the First President of Nigeria, Dies at 91
By Howard W. French 
MAY 14, 1996

Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria's first President and a vigorous champion of African independence from European colonial rule, died Saturday in a hospital in his native eastern Nigeria after a long illness. He was 91.
Dr. Azikiwe, an Ibo from southeast Nigeria, presided over a democratic Government that was in power for a mere three years before the regional tensions that have marked the country's politics ever since led to the first of many military coups. But as a lawyer, political scientist, journalist, political activist, President and for many years Nigeria's elder statesman, Dr. Azikiwe towered over the affairs of Africa's most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country.
After years of agitation for nationhood, Dr. Azikiwe became Governor General of the Nigerian Federation at independence from Britain in 1960, and President in 1963, when the country was declared a republic.
While in office, he introduced universal adult suffrage and moved to extend schooling throughout the country.
When Nigeria's civil war erupted in 1967, after a disastrous attempt at secession led by the Ibo general Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Dr. Azikiwe broke ranks with leaders from his own ethnic group who supported the bid to form an independent nation called Biafra.
For a time, his support of a united Nigeria earned him the scorn of many in his native southeast. But with his customary political aplomb, Dr. Azikiwe soon emerged from the ashes of a defeated Biafra to figure prominently in the country's triangular ethnic coalition politics.
He ran again for the presidency twice, in 1979 and 1983, during a brief interlude of democracy between military governments. But although he ran strongly in his native region each time, he ended up throwing his support to rivals from the north.
Early in his career, Dr. Azikiwe seemed to realize that his Ibo group, the smallest of Nigeria's three major ethnic sub-divisions, could never rule the country outright. This insight led him to form alliances with northern politicians from the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic constellation that would give him a far greater say in the country's affairs than he could have hoped for alone.
Throughout his life, Dr. Azikiwe's alliance with northerners put him at odds with Obafemi Awolowo, a socialist-inclined leader of the Yoruba, the country's other important southern group. In the view of Mr. Awolowo's supporters and many other Nigerians, Dr. Azikiwe's compact with the north opened the country to domination by the north and by the military, whose senior officer corps is dominated by people of Hausa and Fulani background.
Born Nov. 16, 1904, in Zungeru in northern Nigeria, where his father was stationed as a colonial civil servant, Nnamdi Azikiwe attended English-run missionary schools. He then went to the United States, where he studied at Storer College in West Virginia, Howard University in Washington, D.C., Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York City.
Dr. Azikiwe taught political science at Lincoln University for three years in the early 1930's before returning to Africa, where he founded the first of five newspapers he would create, The African Morning Post, in Accra, Ghana, in 1934.
In Ghana, Dr. Azikiwe became a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah, the Premier of that British colony who would go on to become the President of the first African country to free itself from European rule, in 1957.
Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1937 and worked as an editor and essayist before throwing himself into the limited local politics under colonial rule, becoming a member of the Legislative Council in 1948.
Making a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of independence, he went on to become Premier of the country's Eastern Region in 1954.
After he disappeared from public for several weeks in 1989 following the death of his wife, Flora, associates of Dr. Azikiwe announced his death, provoking an outpouring of emotion in his honor. Clearly relishing the affection shown for him, Dr. Azikiwe resurfaced from seclusion, saying "I am not in a hurry to leave this world, because it is the only planet I know."
As a traditional chief of the Ibo, Dr. Azikiwe is expected to have an elaborate funeral guided by ancestral customs. The Nigerian Government has also announced that he will be given a state funeral.
History Does Not Forget



  1. Decision of leader are sometime not the best solution for the people they serve... may his gentle soul Rest In Peace.

  2. Well-done sir a good job you are doing by taken us through memory lane. Its a commendable stride that will keep youths of today abreast of events and happenings of the past to serve as lessons in case of any misconduct.
    I so Mich enjoy the history of oredein. Please include me in your list of readers in any of your subsequent releases. My e-mail is thanks

  3. Educatively refreshing!Indeed, some things never change as the seeds once planted become un-uprootable

  4. Baba Owelle! May your soul continue to rest in peace.