Monday, May 17, 2010

Remembering Zik in a Season of Mourning

By Max Amuchie/Business Day

On Tuesday, May 11 Nigeria was in a mourning mood. Many official activities had been either suspended or scaled down to observe the one week of national mourned declared by the government for the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died five days earlier in Aso Rock.

May 11 every year is set aside by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to remember the father of modern Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who died on that day in 1996. This year’s Zik symposium organized by Ndigbo Lagos took place at the Lagos Resource Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, a smaller venue compared to the more elaborate outing that the Zik memorial has been known for over the years.

Kalu Onuma, administrative secretary of Ndibgo Lagos, explained that the organizers opted for the Lagos Resource Centre instead of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in diference to the mood of the nation. Before Mbazulike Amechi, a member of the pre-independence Zikist Movement, who was guest speaker, mounted the rostrum, there was a film show on Azikiwe’s exploits as a nationalist and sports man. At the end of the film, many people in the audience shook their heads apparently disappointed about how Nigeria has followed a wrong development trajectory different from the dreams of the founding fathers like Zik. Amechi’s lecture was thought provoking as it was magisterial.
Nnamdi Azikwe

Amechi, popularly known as the ‘The boy is good’ in the days of the fight for Nigeria’s independence, talked about Zik’s background and how his cosmopolitan upbringing shaped his worldview. “Because he was born in the North, educated in the East and the West and could speak Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Efik Languages, Zik grew up and saw himself simply as a Nigeria child. We may mark this for Zik’s liberal attitude towards One Nigeria and his consuming passion for the unity of the country. His taking part in congregational prayers and modes of worship in the different Christian dominations also helped to prepare him for an enlightened liberal attitude to religion and human relations. Infact when he assumed the mantle of national leadership, he took time to study the Islamic Q’uran and he could quote the chapters and verses of the Q’uran as Muslim Maitama Sule of Kano can quote the Christian Bible.

“After his secondary education in Nigeria, Zik found his way to America in quest of the golden fleece. After harsh and daunting experiences in Storer College, Pittsburgh, he studied at the Howard and Lincoln Universities where he acquired degrees in political science,” he said.

He told the audience about Zik’s contribution to Nigerian journalism with his chains of newspapers. He declared: “Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1935 after a brief spell in Ghana (then known as Gold Coast). In Nigeria he found out that the people lacked education and political consciousness. In order to arouse the political consciousness of the people, he proceeded to set up newspapers. He established the West African Pilot in Lagos, Southern Nigerian Defender in Ibadan, Eastern Nigerian Guardian in Port Harcourt, Nigerian Spokesman in Onitsha, Daily Comet in Lagos (later transferred to Kano to aid nationalist Aminu Kano’s NEPU) and the Eastern Sentinel in Enugu.”

He said Zik picked youths who had no experience or formal training in journalism and trained them to run the newspapers. Most of them rose to become the great names in Nigerian journalism, including that one can find printed in letters of gold in the annals of journalism in people like Increase Coker, Ebun Adesioye, A.K. Blankson, A.Y.S. Tinubu, Abiodun Aloba, Stephen Iweanya, Herbert Unegbu, M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, Tony Enahoro, Magaji Danbatta, Za’adu Zungur, Peter Osugo, Babatunde Jose and A.K. Disu. “This core of pioneer journalists represented the entire geography of Nigeria and reflected no ethnic or regional boundaries. This is a strong evidence that Zik saw Nigeria as one large family and not the hazy contraption of not very friendly tribes and tongues as we have now,” Amechi said ruefully.

The guest lecturer delved into the political history of Nigeria, how Zik teamed up with the late Herbert Macaulay, founder of Nigeria’s first truly national political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (later National Council of Nigerian Citizens NCNC) and how Zik took over leadership of the party when Macaulay died in 1947

He took audience on the memory lane on the carpet crossing in the Western House of Assembly in 1952 that denied Zik premiership of the Western Region when legislators elected on the platform of NCNC crossed the carpet to join the defunct Action Group founded by the late Obafemi Awolowo.

Amechi talked about how Zik sacrificed the position of prime minister of Nigeria in order to persuade the north to vote for independence in 1960 because the British had said if any region voted against independence they would delay granting Nigeria independence on October 1, 1960. The north, according to him, had given as condition for going along with the south on the independence question the concession of the position of prime minister.

He talked about Zik’s effort to become president in 1979 with Shehu Shagari as his running mate and how that effort was thwarted by opportunists who convinced Zik to dump the agreement already reached with the National Movement which transformed into the defunct National Party of Nigeria, the ruling party in the second republic. He called on Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization to organise a befitting burial for all Igbo heroes who died in during the Nigeria Civil War

Amechi received a standing ovation after his lecture. Raph Uweche, president of Ohanaeze said there had had been effort in giving Igbo heroes burial. He thanked Amechi for his inspiring lecture.

Ben Obi, vice presidential running mate of the Action Congress in the 2007 election, spoke about Nigerian politics and the efforts he made to get Igbos in the scheme of things when he was special adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Other speakers talked about the need for the elderly in Igboland to groom the youth to be future leaders.

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