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Azikiwe: Statesman and titan of African politics

By Chido Nwangwu, USAfrica ONLINE, June 1996

Monday, January 11, 1960: The first business session of the Nigerian Senate in Lagos is in progress. It is a full-house impregnated with lofty, patriotic expectations of a new Nigeria. Standing up amid the expectation, Senator Nuhu Bamali said: I have the honor to propose that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe do take the chair of this House as the President. I am happy that a man who had spent all his life working for the political emancipation of his people and for the independence of this country should be the first to become the President of this...

The announcement was welcomed with warm, loud applause. Then, with a dignified presidential bearing, and standing tall beyond six feet, Zik, the spearhead of the struggle for Nigeria’s political independence, early apostle of pan-Africanism, continued his upward mobility in Nigeria’s political arena. Wednesday, October 12, 1988: In the bowel of the Nsukka hills, a shouting distance from my alma mater, Nigeria’s first indigenous university, University of Nigeria, is a quiet, but remarkable home, the Onuiyi Haven.

Appropriately, that remarkable stately residence is called Onuiyi. Onuiyi is an Igbo word which ordinarily means the source of a stream.

Indeed, here, a stream of wisdom flows from a sage, the grand master of Nigerian politics; it flows at a finely calibrated tempo and with a disarming subtlety. For many decades, the sage’s river of wisdom has nourished generations and cultures, academic gurus and village wags, politicos and iron surgeons (soldiers), kings and queens, princes and plebians.

In the background, birds chirp away some musical notes. Tree leaves continued to rustle and sway in harmony as if saying It’s another bright day for the Owelle. You’re welcome.

About 9:00 a.m., Zik’s personal secretary and his trusted aide, Mr. A. Okolo, briefs him about general issues of importance, correspondence, commitments and visitors to the Onuiyi Haven. In almost all public and private ceremonies, he has assisted Dr. Azikiwe.

At 2:48 p.m., Okolo directs this reporter through the second gate. As I walked the staircase with him, thoughts and questions began to form rapidly on my mind like a fresh colony of mushrooms on a beautiful tropical sunrise.

For example, what if Dr. Azikiwe emerged now, what should be the first question? Should I follow my planned interview-plot or apply a flexible, situational tactic and flow with the disposition of the sage?

Although Okolo knew I was coming, I still pondered: Will the titan of African politics grant me just 20 minutes, 10 minutes?

Will he even talk to me? If he did, by any measure in the African continent, it would have been my biggest, most important interview. (Then, I was just in my early twenties serving as Assistant Editor of Platform magazine in Lagos; that’s shortly after I left the Nigerian Television).

There were questions I wanted to ask concerning Azikiwe’s autobiographical magnum opus he titled, My Odyssey. Remarkably, 25 years after that book’s release, our brother Gen. Colin Powell’s bestseller is similarly titled, My American Journey.

For all serious students of pan-Africanism, African culture and nationalism and United States-Africa-Nigeria relations, Azikiwe’s books, especially Renascent Africa are vital, must read. I read My Odyssey

No other secular book at the time I was growing up helped define and shape my intellectual destination and outlook better than Azikiwe’s autobiography. Though this lion of Africa’s nationalism is dead, many of us await the promise and task he set for himself in London as stated in the 1970 preface to, My Odyssey.

In it he stated: In a subsequent volume, I hope to discuss how I founded the African Continental Bank; my entry into the orbit of Nigerian Politics; my participation in the crusade for the freedom of Nigerian; my stewardship as Premier of Eastern Nigeria; the founding of the University of Nigeria; my tenure as Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria and then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Azikiwe’s colorful and combative entry into the trying times of nationalistic agitation and post-independence partisan politics has been supported and illuminated by his penetrating prolific and incisive literary power. He is the better embodiment of philosopher-king.

Accordingly, the followers and foes of the artful Azikiwean political stratagem and craftiness expected Nigeria’s most durable political figure to clear a forest of issues obstructing a thorough understanding of events and personalities in the development of Nigeria, especially his relationship with the late nationalists Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Zikist Movement. Contrary to dangerously uninformed, pedestrian revisionism of Nigeria’s nationalist struggle by some fellows, that country did not get its independence on a platter of gold.

For instance, just as recent as Thursday, August 24, 1983 in a widely circulated open-letter to Nigerians he titled History will vindicate the Just, former president Azikiwe reminded the attentive of the struggle to free and build that richly-endowed country of 95 million.

As the grandmaster of Nigeria’s politics joins his ancestors, what manner of governing legacy will those uniformed tin-gods masquerading as leaders and their conniving greedy, gang of bucanneer politicians do in memory of our father? The answer, my friends, is blowing in wind.

Regardless, as Nnamdi Azikiwe, principal witness, eminent scholar, key player and insightful chronicler of African and Nigerian history, politics, culture, sociology, arts, enterprise, ethics, journalism and diplomacy passes on (he told anyone who listened that he’s not in a hurry to leave this planet), the man’s array of accolades and distinctions and a handful of unfulfilled hopes remain a very instructive profile in the world, particularly, within the universe of people of African descent.

Although, he compromised on certain issues many would have preferred he stuck to his guns. He left a few decisive battles he could have fought beyond his ideal vision of things. Which leads me to the question: What if Azikiwe had gone beyond the ought in his agenda for Nigeria and his place in history, may be that country’s present history could have been different. It’s just a thought, just a may be.

But who am I to raise questions regarding the wisdom of our father, our pathfinder, the navigator, the pacesetter?

Zik of Africa, master of crafty political game-plans, member of a thousand learned associations, eminent alumnus of Howard, Michigan State, Pennsylvania and Lincoln Universities, founder of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, father of generations, inimitable wordsmith of euphonious diction and oratorical elegance, poet and politician, statesman and living legend, I thank for illuminating my mind, our collective mind.

Rest in peace, Owelle!!!