One man is also regarded as the equal of any other man. Both have inherent rights to life: the right to work and reap the harvest of their labor; the right to think and act with relative freedom. This equality in the right to live and to enjoy life does not imply inevitability of conflict; yet man in his attempt at self-preservation has found himself plunged into conflicting desires and ends”
Dr. A. A. Nwafor Orizu in Without Bitterness (USA: Creative Age Press, 1944; page 326)
We are worried that some notorious people were given this Centenary Award and the good people were left in the dust.Ha! Now, therefore, we warn every leader in Nigeria to beware of the days when they too will grow old and be forgotten. No one, not even their own children will remember that their father is in the backyard dreaming about his days of glory and wondering about the calamity that had come as locusts in the image of their own children! He, who has an ear, let him hear. For if we do not speak, who will speak? If we do not fight, who will fight? If we do not rise up to defy evil, who will rise up to defy evil? Beware. Yes.
Dr. Udunna Jaanna Nwafor-Orizu & Jeff Unaegbu
by Dr. Udunna Jaanna Nwafor-Orizu & Jeff Unaegbu
Within an ambiance of the inadequate filiopietistic aura in the Nigerian government of today, a critical hindsight observation crops up like a volcanic eruption. It is a benumbing realization that only fourteen of the many early nationalists who fought for the independence of Nigeria were awarded during the Centenary Awards on February 28, 2014 in Abuja under the Category B tagged “HEROES OF THE STRUGGLE FOR NIGERIA’S INDEPENDENCE/ PIONEER POLITICAL LEADERS”. Technically speaking, we consider the awardees in this category as the most important of all awardees, else there would not have been independence as we got it or any centennial celebration in Nigeria as it went. There was some hesitation in us to protest this anomaly, but after being sufficiently rattled by the living words of Mao Tse-tung (no Marxist intent), we became as agitated as people whose house is on fire. For it was Mao Tse-tung who said in his manifesto written in July 1919 that, “Heaven and earth are aroused, the traitors and the wicked are put to flight. Ha! We know it! We are awakened! The world is ours, the nation is ours, society is ours. If we do not speak, who will speak? If we do not act, who will act? If we do not rise up and fight, who will rise up and fight?”
We suspect that there was a romance with the number 100 which limited the awardees to a hundred slots. But that romance becomes puerile, infinitesimal, inane and naked when the rightful essence of the awards and the solemnity of nation building are considered. We would have preferred that to come close to that essence, 100 categories and not 100 individual slots should be the frame for the awards. From the myriad of early nationalists who were thrown into colonial prisons, whipped around without mercy and sometimes in the face of death and ridicule, crushed beyond redemption, only fourteen people were conveniently remembered by the Nigerian government. This fourteen were Herbert Macaulay (jailed twice by the colonial government), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (very aptly remembered), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Professor Eyo Ita, Jaja Wachukwu, Pa Michael Imoudu, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Joseph Sarwan Tarka, Mallam Aminu Kano, Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba. Ask any of this fourteen if you can and you will hear strong voices of protests that the following people would have to be bestowed with the awards also: Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Dr. A.A. Nwafor Orizu, Kingsley Mbadiwe, Oged Macaulay, Mallam Habib Raji Abdalla, Osita Agwuna, Mokwugwo Okoye, Chief MCK Ajuluchukwu, Chief Fred Anyiam, Chief Mbazulike Iwuchukwu Amaechi, Increase Coker, Ebun Adesioye, Mr. AJ Marinho, Green Mbadiwe, Eni Njoku, Alhaji S.O. Gbadamosi, H.O. Davies, Bode Thomas, A.K. Blankson, Kola Balogun, Abiodun Aloba, Harry Nwana, Wogu Ananaba, Ikenna Nzimiro, Za’ad Zungur, Okechukwu Ikejiani, Jack Seaboy, T.O.S. Benson, Hon. Timothy Naakuru Paul Birabi, Chief Dennis Osadebay, Michael Okpara amongst so many others. We will go into individual historic struggles of a few of the above names to bring into proper perspective their painful war for independence. Sometimes, many of these nationalists fought for the whole of Africa and not its individual national constituents, much less the tribe they came from.
Let it come to national memory again and again, therefore, that it was only Mbonu Ojike as a young man of 31, who stoutly represented Nigeria, without official mandate from its colonial authorities, in one of the then League of Nations conferences at San Francisco in 1945. While the colonial government of Nigeria was indifferent to the activities of this world body of nations, Mbonu Ojike travelled incognito to the conference on a shoestring transport fare raised by Nwafor Orizu and Kingsley Mbadiwe as executives of the African Students Association in America (founded by Orizu) and executives of the African Academy of Arts and Research (founded by Mbadiwe). Ojike’s mission was to focus the world’s attention to the need for the independence of Nigeria. Let it be known that in all the international conferences of the League of Nations after the first world war, and all the international conferences of the allies during the second world war, and meetings on post war plans, nothing was ever said about the freedom and sovereignty of African colonies. No colonial African nation ever attended these conferences even as observers. Ojike arrived San Francisco and went to the International Conference Hall without any accreditation or official recognition whatsoever because Nigeria was not a sovereign nation. After the accreditation formalities of all the fifty sovereign allied nations were completed and Nigeria was not mentioned, Ojike jumped up with arms raised to the heavens, shouting very loudly, “Nigeria! Nigeria! Nigeria!”. Of course, a crowd surged towards him. Some delegates, including the Russian delegate gave him their cards and warm handshakes. For the first time, all fifty nations knew as a group that there was the need to grant Nigeria its independence. Earlier, the African Students Association had petitioned and forwarded a memo to the American government requesting the inclusion in the United Nations Charter a promise of independence for colonial peoples. At that time also, this association was meeting in Orizu’s student room 411 (fourth floor) at International House of New York. It is shuddering to remember that within his three years of sojourn in America as a student, Mbonu Ojike published three books (each every year from 1945 to 1947) defending Africa, portraying to his large foreign audience across vast America, the identity and integrity of African cultures. Sometime later, he went around wearing only African attire as representative of African cultures. This attitude was to become immensely popular as a fashion in vogue later in Nigeria. He gave out the African Student Association memorandum to as many delegates as he could in international conferences, with a passion to speak for African colonies and her peoples. During the vicious fight for independence, he worked hard behind the scenes as one of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s lieutenants, defining and suggesting concepts, creating slogans and manifestoes, often propelling political gatherings with his memorable songs, earning him the sobriquet of “Freedom choirmaster”. It is therefore painful to remember that it was during the Justice Chuba Ikpeazu’s tribunal of 1954 that someone caused an announcement to be made on the State Radio that Mbonu Ojike had been found guilty of corrupt practices. Ojike was then the Eastern Regional Minister of Finance. Despite loud protests by ministers in the then Azikiwe’s premiership cabinet to the effect that the Ikpeazu tribunal had not submitted any report yet and that Mbonu Ojike was being crucified based on a public broadcast that was based on no submitted evidence, Mbonu was curiously compelled to resign and was maliciously disgraced out of public favour in January 1956. The accusations remained clearly a source of pain and embarrassment which sped into his physical death. When the Report was submitted a year later after Mbonu Ojike’s death and proved unclear, everyone was touched and even Azikiwe cried publicly during his funeral ceremony. Amongst those who were greatly disturbed by this crucifixion was Michael Okpara, the then Eastern Regional Minister of Health. Because of Mbonu Ojike’s zealousness for one Nigeria and his wonderful loyalty to the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons party, Michael Okpara (who was an admirer) was certain that if Mbonu Ojike were alive, he would have automatically become the Premier of the Eastern Region after Dr. Azikiwe in 1959 instead of him, Michael Okpara. Again, in Okpara’s biography authored by Chris Offodile, it was observed that he regarded Ojike as “one of the greatest nationalists this country ever produced. Ojike was, in Okpara’s view, such a very straightforward man that one knew exactly where one stood with him on all questions…. Ojike loved this country.” It is this same Mbonu Ojike whose name is conspicuously absent in the Centenary Awards.
Just like Ojike’s legacies are being relegated to the shadows, so also are Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe’s. It was Mbadiwe at the age of 20 in 1937 who arranged for Dr. Azikiwe to meet with his wealthy elder brother, Green Mbadiwe (a gold miner and railway contractor based in Minna). This historic meeting led to Green Mbadiwe’s financial support of the setting up of Dr. Azikiwe’s newspaper, The West African Pilot. This newspaper was very vocal in fighting the colonial government and KO Mbadiwe became the paper’s representative for Port Harcourt, Aba and Onitsha. He was one of the “Seven Argonauts” who by the encouragement and connections of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe sailed to America in search of the horizontal type of education that America offered. These seven Argonauts acquired this education first at Lincoln University and become a source of pain in the neck of the colonial government when they returned. Others include, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, George Mbadiwe, Etuka Okala, Dr. Nnodu Okongwu, Engineer Nwankwo Chukwuemeka and Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani. Earlier, Kwame Nkrumah and A.K. Disu had sailed to America through the encouragement and inspiration of Dr. Azikiwe and later, a passionate Dr. Nwafor Orizu joined the seven Argonauts at Lincoln. With Dr. Orizu and Mbonu Ojike, Kingsley Mbadiwe pioneered the African Student Association in America. At age 25 in late 1942, he founded the African Academy of Arts and Research which brought the African way of life to the American audience and whose activities attracted Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the then president of the United States. She invited the adolescent Mbadiwe and Mbonu Ojike to the White House in 1943. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1948, Mbadiwe traveled around the country with a movie, “Greater Tomorrow” which he had made in the United States to promote the identity of African cultures and the body he founded. With interest generated by the film, his Academy sent a group of 16 African students to the United States before the end of that 1948! Before independence, he was already a former member of the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, a former member of the Federal House of Representatives and a former Minister of Lands and Natural Resources! He created a think tank which he named “National Rebirth” and got many early nationalists and politicians to give their thoughts for the way forward for Nigeria. He advocated for a nationally based political party over regional or ethnic party politics. This has become accepted today as the only weapon for national unity. As Minister of Lands, he resettled victims of the Lagos slum clearance project in a place which was once a forest but now known as the bustling Surulere. It was Mbadiwe who moved a motion in 1952 to make Lagos exclusive of the Western Region because of its nature as the capital of Nigeria. It was Mbadiwe who moved a motion in parliament that led to the establishment of the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was Mbadiwe who first began to practice the idea of party alliance and was instrumental in arranging historic alliances between the NCNC and the NPC in 1954 and other party formations in many other instances after independence. When Nigeria gained independence, he became the Minister of Aviation and took two Hausa trumpeters from Kano and Atilogwu dancers from eastern Nigeria to New York from Lagos in a bid to show the world the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria. It was Mbadiwe who was appointed the only “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A man of admirable suave and winsome openness, his personality was magnetic to every tribe in Nigeria, especially the northerners. It was this same Mbadiwe who was clearly rigged out in 1983 in his bid to represent Orlu as a Senator. It is now the same KO Mbadiwe whose name did not appear in the list of Centenary Awardees.
One of the greatest nationalists who ever trod upon the soil of Nigeria was His Excellency, Prince Dr. Akweke Abyssinia Nwafor Orizu (Former acting President of Nigeria). Today, he is hardly remembered beyond the confines of Nnewi his hometown. It is a strange luck that a College of Education at Nsugbe bears his name today. He met Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe at Onitsha in 1937 after the latter delivered an inspiring lecture. Deeply moved to salvage Africa through his philosophy of African horizontal education and African irredentism, Dr. Nwafor Orizu fought to sail to America for higher education. Because of insufficient funds, he failed to sail with A.K. Disu and again with the seven Argonauts. But being a man of uncommon determination who knew the value of the kind of education that was not constrained by colonial dictates, he toured cap in hand to many parts of Nigeria, including Kano, Kaduna, Onitsha, Lagos etc, looking for funds to enable him travel to the United States. He succeeded in going to America in 1938 after he met Green Mbadiwe of Minna in Kaduna Junction. It was Green Mbadiwe who rescued him financially. And upon arriving in the United States, Dr. Orizu quickly propelled himself into an American celebrity of sorts. His name became almost a household name in the United States with his radio broadcasts which were fervent about the virtue of being African, the necessity of African independence from colonial rule and the essence of the mental emancipation of Africa, the need for the economic security of Africa, the desire for the social regeneration of Africa, the importance of the political livelihood of Africans, and the moral implication and spiritual mission in African cultures. He left Lincoln University because he felt the education he was acquiring there was not broad enough and he waded his way first to Howard and then to Ohio University in the Midwest of the United States. His speech making became a part of his permanent passion throughout his undergraduate days in the Ohio State University. He did not only broadcast over the radio across America, he also talked to church groups, social groups and clubs. Dr. Orizu began to write a book on Africa at Ohio State University which metamorphosed to his classic book, Without Bitterness, completed in 1944 while he was in Columbia University for his Masters degree and published in America and widely distributed in America. It was Dr. Nwafor Orizu, while still a first-year student at Ohio, who founded the African Students Association of the USA and Canada which brought all African students in America together and gave them a conscious voice. A selfless African, he allowed others to reap after he had sown. This was why Kwame Nkrumah became the first President of the Association, while he was Vice President. He later became the second President after Nkrumah. This Association was supported by the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.
At Columbus, the idea of introducing state controlled schools for free education of the Nigerian citizens occupied his mind. He thought of setting up such a school in his home country of Nnewi. He later did set up a school which he named the Nigerian Secondary School, a reflection of his nationalistic outlook which was an offshoot from his pan-African ideals. Dr. Nwafor Orizu was granted two scholarships at Ohio State and Yale Universities, but he strove to make them available for use by his relatives. This struggle to offer scholarships to his relatives was mostly successful later when he established his educational program of the American Council on African Education (ACAE) in 1944. In order to establish the ACAE, which was a social programme aimed at securing scholarships for indigenous Africans, Dr. Nwafor Orizu had to visit many presidents of higher institutions in many states in America using his shoe-string funds and risking his studies at Columbia University. He was able to secure one hundred and fifty university scholarships from American sources for the benefit of African students. Dr. Orizu was made an Associate Editor of the Negro Digest, and an editorial columnist of the Pittsburgh Courier with his “Africa Speaks” column which brought the question of the indigenous African to about 300, 000 American readers every week! He was an advocate of the “horizontal”, broad system of American education as opposed to the narrow “perpendicular” British system, and earned the nickname “Orizontal”, a play on his name and a reference to his constant discussion of the theme. Dr. Orizu was a passionate advocate of introducing the American system to Nigeria. It was Dr. Orizu who was the first African student to have addressed most prestigious institutions in America such as Harvard University Faculty Club, Fisk University, Boston University, Wilberforce University etc., travelling far and wide, sometimes by air and train, in Virginia and Florida. It was Dr. Orizu who developed and enunciated the philosophies of Horizontal Education and African Irredentism for educational emancipation and political revolution for the African Continent. His person and book had enjoyed wide and historic reviews in leading American magazines and newspapers, including the prestigious Time magazine, the New York Times, Chicago Sun, the New Republic, the New York Herald Tribune, and, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Before he left America in 1945 at the age of 30, he had a talk with the U.S. Vice President, Henry Agard Wallace, who bade him farewell!
He returned to Nigeria and after establishing the headquarters of ACAE in Port Harcourt in 1946, he utilized his secured scholarships by sending many Nigerian and other African students to America. This was done under open attack and propaganda by the British colonial government. Because of initial problems of settling some of these students, revitalizing the ACAE and taking care of other student matters, he was summoned back to the United States by the New York board of the programme. Thus, refusing all entreaties to remain in Nigeria for a moment such as the offer of becoming the first President of the Ibo State Union, he left for the United States in 1947. In the United States, he was able to purchase a students’ hostel and office with funds from ACAE and to secure more scholarships which ran from 150 to 431. It is not wrong to say that the Nwafor Orizu nationalistic factor was very dominant in catalyzing the education of Nigerians, especially the Igbo. Dr. Nwafor Orizu was able to make history by being the first person to persuade the Governor of New York to permit African students under ACAE to be admitted into any of the New York state owned colleges and universities for technical education. The first African student to benefit from this permission was M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, who was thus the first African student to be admitted to a state owned college in New York. Other students included Babs Fafunwa from Lagos. It is important to note here that while many foreign students at the time were sponsored by their home governments, African students who had no independent home governments but nonchalant colonial governments had no sponsorship, thus Nwafor Orizu’s personal sacrifice filled the vacuum. Many of the African students, who came to America through the ACAE, engaged in study/work programmes and became established. They then began to send for their relatives in Africa to study in America, thereby furthering the aims of the educational mission.
A shining example of self sacrifice for Nigeria from Dr. Orizu occurred when he was wrongly accused of misappropriating funds of the ACAE and then thrown into prison by the colonial government to serve a seven year term. This was after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Premier of the Eastern Region appointed Orizu the Minister of Local Government in January 1953. On September 10, 1957, after four grueling years in jail, he was released from prison on orders of the then Governor General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson and pressure from Hon. Osita Agwuna in the then House of Representatives. When Nigeria gained independence, Dr. Orizu became a senator. When Nigeria became a Republic in 1963, Dr. Orizu as a leading legislator was amongst the delegates who stood to attention for Nigeria as its majestic green-white-green flag was hoisted at the United Nations Organization headquarters for the first time in the history of the world. In the same 1963, he represented Nigeria in the 700th anniversary of the Parliament Simon De Monfort as Senate President of Nigeria. On March 14, 1964, he was elected President of the Nigerian Senate. In 1965, he was re-elected for a second term. It is worthy to note here that in his position as Senate President, he performed the role of a skillful arbiter whenever the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had misunderstandings with the President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Then came his most important service to Nigeria: it was to Dr. Nwafor Orizu that the nation was handed over when Dr. Azikiwe left for England for medical checkup in October 1965. As Acting President of Nigeria, Dr. Orizu was aware that the vicissitudinal politics of the time was steeped in red alert danger, especially after controversial Federal and western elections. And it is considerable that he had to remain on guard. With the palpable tension in Nigeria at that time, it had to take a man of wits to handle the volatile situation, especially when there were no executive powers vested on him at the time. For at this time, the post of the President was ceremonial. His Excellency, Dr. Orizu, told the Prime Minister Balewa to get the Sardauna and the NPC to stop involving themselves in the political violence in the West. But at the time, the Prime Minister cut the picture of being helpless. He even revealed once to Dr. Orizu that politics is a “game where in order to survive, somebody must do what he does not really want to do, in order to be acceptable to his own party colleagues”. It was obvious that someone else was controlling Nigeria indirectly, most likely the northern potentate, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The bloody riots between members of UPGA and members of NNA in the West continued unabated, with people being burnt alive and their houses destroyed. This violence claimed more than 160 persons from October 1965 to January 1966 and the violence continued until junior officers in the military struck. During the first military coup that lasted from midnight of January 14, 1966 up to morning of January 15, 1966, GOC Aguiyi Ironsi rushed to Dr. Orizu for advice. At first, Aguiyi Ironsi wanted Dr. Orizu to appoint a Prime Minister in the absence of Sir Abubakar to enable the armed forces mobilize defence and quell the mutiny within the military. According to Ironsi, there was a foreign government that would offer military help if a Prime Minister was appointed. Dr. Orizu was not keen on foreign help. He thought it abnormal to hand Nigeria back to foreigners just six years after he and others had managed to wrest the same Nigeria from foreigners. Still, he did not want the greater evil of self-destruct immanent in the Nigerian situation of that time. He told Aguiyi Ironsi that before he could act constitutionally under the circumstance, he would have to confer with all arms of the armed forces not the military alone and he would have to also consult the Council of Ministers. Despite pressures from an Igbo colleague to appoint him Prime Minister, Dr. Orizu refused. For the sake of history and for Nigeria, he consulted with the Attorney General of the Federation, Dr. Taslim Elias. The man confirmed that Dr. Orizu had all the constitutional powers to appoint a Prime Minister and should summon the Heads of the forces. Rather than appoint a Prime Minister from eastern Nigeria, which at the time did not reflect true Nigerian unity nor reflect the constitution which stipulated that the position belonged to the leader of the majority party in the Parliament, Dr. Orizu sent a message to NPC ministers to send the name of a Prime Minister immediately. The NPC Ministers were not able to send a name because of their encounter with the military. GOC Aguiyi Ironsi returned to Orizu’s official residence with all branches of the entire armed forces of Nigeria. Dr. Orizu’s house was completely surrounded by troops and armoured cars of all the service chiefs. Dr. Orizu courageously came out to meet the entire service chiefs of the Nigerian armed forces who were armed to the teeth. HE WAS SALUTED BY THEM ALL. They said that the situation of things in the country was such that the army had to take over and that they needed Dr. Orizu to give them the opportunity to do so by suspending the government so that they could destroy the mutiny within the ranks with military precision. By this time, the most vocal leader of the coup, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, was in control in Kaduna and his colleague, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, was losing grip of Lagos. He would later become traumatized by the bloody pumping of bullets into his human targets and would escape to Dahomey disguised as a woman and accompanied by his friends, Christopher Okigbo and J.P. Bekederemo-Clark (who went back at the border).
Dr. Orizu saw wisdom in handing over to the military at that time because elected members of the First Republic had proved powerless and undisciplined in the face of electoral crises at the time. They had rigged massively in the Federal elections and again with impunity in the Western elections. If Dr. Orizu called for dissolution and new elections without allowing the military to deal with the division within itself, the young major Nzeogwu would have carried the battle to Lagos and begun a war with the loyal military troops. It was his deep desire not to allow myopic elements to scatter Nigeria, to destroy Nigeria from being a unified whole. Handing over to the military was the most expedient thing to do at the time. He instructed the gathered service chiefs to go back to the barracks and put their request in writing to enable him understand how they would stop the violence in the country. He also told them to come back early that evening of January 16 so that by 8 p.m., he would announce their decision over the radio. The nation was accordingly informed of his decision to make a nation-wide broadcast by 8p.m. They left and came back in the evening with their prepared document. Some Ministers also arrived including Alhaji Dipcharima, Shehu Shagari, Dr. Elias and others. They were all northern Ministers, aside the Attorney General, Dr. Elias. Dr. Orizu felt that the Igbo early nationalist and then Minister, KO Mbadiwe, needed to be present. He sent for him immediately. The head of the Air Force was a white man. He read the text of what they had prepared which suspended the Parliament and the Presidency and not the Regional Government. Dr. Orizu was asked to hand over power to the armed forces. But he boldly asked them to include in the document the suspension of Regional Governments. This was because he felt that if the Regional Governments were not suspended, the cause of the violence and impasse in Nigeria which had led to the coup would not be solved. He also boldly asked them to specify in person to whom he as president would hand over and not the armed forces as a whole. This is because he felt that it would not be wise to hand over power to the armed forces as a body since they would fight amongst themselves for leadership. Let history note this for the sake of posterity. The men had to go away and come back again after an amendment. Dr. Orizu read aloud the amended document only to discover that they did not indicate to whom he would hand over the reins of government. He looked up at these officers and asked them right there and then who he would hand over power to. There was some indication that he should hand over to the GOC Aguiyi Ironsi. Let history note again that GOC Aguiyi Ironsi gave indication that he would not accept the responsibility initially. He whispered to Dr. Orizu that he won’t take the job. It appeared Aguiyi Ironsi got adequately convinced after Dr. Orizu reminded him that he was once in charge of operations in the Congo and could therefore handle Nigeria. Dr. Orizu, therefore, encircled the words “armed forces” and inserted JTU Aguiyi Ironsi in its place. This was how JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi came to power without rancor amongst the senior military officers and service chiefs. Is it not objectionable, therefore, that Dr. Orizu was forgotten? Would our dear President Goodluck Jonathan see it as normal if his achievements as acting President during the ill-health of President Musa Yar’Adua are forgotten? If those achievements are to be recorded in history, then the very turbulent days of Nigeria when Dr. Orizu was acting president need not be forgotten. We wonder if the present legislature is happy that one of their own who was a former Senate President was forgotten. We wonder why the legislature finds it convenient that though a pioneer attorney general (Dr. Taslim Elias) was remembered with an award, the former senate president who sent for Dr. Taslim Elias and had authority over Dr. Taslim Elias as acting President was not remembered. Even if his nationalistic struggles before independence were all forgotten, Dr. Nwafor Orizu will still stand as a pioneer political leader and meticulous executive. Thus, it is cataclysmal that a man who was both a hero of Nigerian independence and a pioneer political leader is not remembered. It is phantasmagorical that though an airport was to be named after Dr. Nwafor Orizu as moved as motion by the Anambra State House of Assembly in February 2002, that effort was abortive and now his image is further relegated to the background by no Centenary Award. When a roll call of former presidents of Nigeria is called, his name is conveniently missing, even though names of people who served for a few months as Presidents or Heads of State are remembered. The argument that he functioned under an acting capacity does not explain off the substance of how he acted. The aura of his worthy footprints ensured that he was giving a burial with full military honours when he died. If Nigeria could remember him so when he died, how then could they not remember him now? When he was acting President, and in a show of his sense of history and appreciation , it was Dr. Nwafor Orizu, along with all service chiefs of the armed forces, who stood at attention at the grave of the Unknown Soldier. And it was this same Nwafor Orizu whose name is missing in the Centenary Awards!!
It is impossible not to mention members of the Zikist movement in this article. These members were nationalistic in outlook and the Movement had room for anyone who hailed from anywhere in Nigeria. Of course, they have all been totally forgotten in this ceremony of centennial Awards. This Movement was founded in February 16, 1946. It derived its name from Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in that “Azi” denotes “youth” and “Azikiwe” literally means, “the Youths of now are angrier than before”. The ideological background of the Movement was inspired by Dr. Nwafor Orizu’s use of the term, “Zikism” in Without Bitterness. According to Dr. Nwafor Orizu, the youth were to be the vanguard of a reawakening in Africa. With Kola Balogun as its first President and MCK Ajuluchukwu as first Secretary, the Zikist Movement fought the colonial government militantly to the extent that many members were incarcerated or beaten severally. Other early founders included Mokwugwo Okoye, Nduka Eze, Raji Abdallah, Oged Macaulay and Abiodun Aloba. Membership of the Movement quickly spread all over Nigeria like wide fire when early members began to move into the provinces to lecture on its significance. They galvanized youths into the Movement, inculcated political education in the masses through lectures, symposia and rallies, and, mobilized members to raise funds from anywhere and everywhere. The Zikist had a winsome costume and flag which attracted youths everywhere. According to a remarkable member, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, in his book, “The Forgotten Heroes of Nigerian Independence” (1985, page 69), the Movement “focused its attacks on imperialist exploitation of the country, the denial of human rights, the bogus constitutions, the obnoxious ordinances (laws) and the collusion of reactionary feudal chieftains with imperialism”. The existence of the Zikist Movement gave sleepless nights to the British Governor General of Nigeria, Sir John Macpherson. As time went on, bold and fearless youths joined the Movement. They included Francis Igio, Julius Ntup, Amaefula Ikoro, Smart Ebi, Peter Osugo, Henry Igbosua, Chike Ekwuyasi, Mbazulike Amaechi (aka The Boy is Good), Yamu Numa from Bendel, Maggie Obinwe, Francis Jibuno, Margaret Ekpo, Za’ad Zungur, Zana Bukar Dipcharima, Prince Sama Ndi (from Cameroun), Osita Agwuna, RBK Okafor and many others. Many of these youths were civil servants. Because of their activities in trying to get freedom for Nigeria, they were dismissed from the civil service. Some youths helped from the sidelines by throwing fire punches through their columns in the newspapers as journalists and in various other ways. These youths included AYS Tinubu, Increase Coker, Ebun Adesioye, Franco Olugbake, Ayo Ogunseye, MAO Imoudu, Tony Enahoro, AK Disu, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Jack Seaboy, D. Nwariaku etc.
It was the Zikist movement that adopted a Freedom Charter in its Kaduna Convention in 1948 by which it intended to declare a Republic of Nigeria! It became clear to the colonial government that these vicious youths were hell bent on committing acts that would be deemed treasonable and were ready to go to prison! The Movement decided to employ the weapons of civil disobedience, picketing, boycotting, passive resistance and positive action. Soon after, on October 27, 1948, Osita Agwuna delivered a lecture entitled, “A Call for Revolution” at Tom Jones Memorial Hall in Lagos. This lecture, believed to have been written by Mokwugwo Okoye and Nduka Eze, led to many of their group being arrested a week later as they were holding another meeting at Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. Osita Agwuna offered himself up for arrest shortly after his lecture at Tom Jones Hall. He was arraigned with Tony Enahoro. The latter youth was 25 years at the time and had served two prison sentences for defying the colonial government. Although not enthusiastically supported by the person of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe himself because of the militant strategies of the Movement which differed from his, the Zikist Movement went ahead with more lectures supporting the Agwuna call for revolution. All over Nigeria, more fiery lectures were organized simultaneously. The atmosphere became charged and the British began to make arrangements to send their families home. More youths were arrested and soon they joined Osita Agwuna and Tony Enahoro in court. They included Fred Anyiam, Oged Macaulay, Ralph Aniedobe, Ogoegbunam Dafe and Raji Abdallah. At Onitsha, the arrested youths included Ikenna Nzimiro and Francis Jibuno. In Jos, it was Bob Ogbuagu. In Kaduna, it was Okei Achamba. In Kano, Okeiyi and two others. In Enugu, SO Achara and JCJ Anakwe. In Benin, Mbazulike Amaechi. These youths deliberately prepared themselves for prosecution by practicing the soul-rousing speeches they would deliver in court to defend themselves. This was because in keeping with the policy and spirit of the Zikist Movement, no Zikist who got arraigned before any court should “make any plea for leniency or show any sign of regret for fighting for the freedom of the motherland”. In his defense, Smart Obike wrote, “Youths must shed the essence of beauty to embrace the billows that stalk the way of freedom”. Osita Agwuna said to his white Judge Baker, “You will not escape the wrath of the youths of Nigeria which is sure to some”. Mallam Raji Abdallah said to the same Judge, “If it is a crime to struggle to win freedom for one’s country, then I implore you to inflict upon me the maximum sentence”. Chief Fred Anyiam uttered to the same Judge, “Whether you send me to prison or order me to be hanged cannot stop the march of Nigerian youths to freedom”. The white Judge Baker was said to have been so uncomfortable with the verbal torpedoes coming from these remarkable youths that his skin colour changed from red to pink. After the great trials and rousing speeches in defense of their struggle for freedom, Smart Obike Ebbi was sentenced to one year imprisonment for fighting for the freedom of Nigeria; Agwuna got three years imprisonment; and Abdallah got two years etc. in spite of the massive presence of police, a crowd of other youths surged forward and applauded the convicted youths as they climbed onto the Black Maria police van which drove them to Broad Street Prison. It is recorded that thousands of Nigerians resisted the police baton charges and followed the police van to the prison gate and remained there until the convicted youths were taken in. The Zikist Movement was banned in February 1950….
Although he was never a member of the Zikist Movement, Dr. Michael Okpara was a nationalist. When Herbert Macaulay died in 1947, Dr. Okpara was one of the young men in Lagos who dressed up in shorts and old shirts and insisted on carrying the coffin for at least a hundred yards. After striking miners were shot by British colonial police at Enugu in November 1949, there was widespread condemnation of the act of shooting by every nationalist. Dr. Okpara spoke fearlessly at the Umuahia protest rally, stating that the British government had gone too far and must be stopped. The acting Resident for Umuahia charged that Dr. Okpara spoke in an inflammatory tone. He was arrested and kept behind bars for four days. Three years later, Dr. Michael Okpara was appointed Minister without Portfolio. He advanced to Minister of Health in 1954; then to Minister of Production and much later, to the Premier of the Eastern Region.
We can go on and on to list the many early nationalists that have been conveniently ignored for the Centenary Awards. But we are sure that this long epistle will rouse amnesiacs from the benumbing slumber that has overtaken their strides. We hope that by this, we have rekindled in all of us the essence of history. For anyone who neglects history is like one who after looking at his image on a mirror, forgets how his face looks like. The amnesia can grow even more embarrassing when people forget their own names. Not so long ago on February 4, 2011, during the funeral ceremony of a worthy nationalist, Chief Anthony Enahoro, some early nationalists who were still alive lamented to the press about the Federal Government’s neglect of nationalists. These heroes of Nigerian independence called on the Federal Government to “cut off this hypocrisy of eulogizing heroes in death, heroes whom they treated with contempt and spite in their life time”. Chief Mbazulike Amaechi said at the Ceremony that “we refused to be impressed by their empty, copious tributes and crocodile tears”. The same Chief Mbazulike Amaechi has not been listed for Centenary Awards.
We are worried that some notorious people were given this Centenary Award and the good people were left in the dust. Ha!
Now, therefore, we warn every leader in Nigeria to beware of the days when they too will grow old and be forgotten. No one, not even their own children will remember that their father is in the backyard dreaming about his days of glory and wondering about the calamity that had come as locusts in the image of their own children! He, who has an ear, let him hear. For if we do not speak, who will speak? If we do not fight, who will fight? If we do not rise up to defy evil, who will rise up to defy evil? Beware. Yes.