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« How Nigeria will Collapse: Some Thoughts on the Yugoslav Model | Main | The Theology of Condom and the Choice of Life and Death »

May 27, 2006

Nnamdi Azikiwe and M. L. King: As Dreamers, Doers or Builders

by Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa --- A controversial leader once renounced the tag of prophet. The days of dreams and prophecies are long gone. The time for action is now. The Ikemba of Nnewi, an eloquent and intelligent orator of our time called Zik a dreamer compared to Dr. M. I. Opara. I do not question the good intention of Ojukwu but to erase any aorta of doubts in the minds of opportunists and the younger ones, this poor little soul has to set some records straight.

A dreamer Azikiwe might have been, he was also a builder and a doer who got down to substantial projects.

There is no doubt that Africans in Diaspora pay their dues to Martin Luther King, a dreamer of the first order and still probably dreaming. Nobody will insinuate or underrate his remarkable achievement in Civil Right in the US. He provided an avenue for peace makers and alternative for those in power to negotiate with. As much as Martin gained recognition, credit has also been given to the Black Panthers Party, Rosa Park’s defiance, Thurgood Marshall legal prowess, Elijah Mohamed and Malcolm X Muslims revolts.

Azikiwe was no Martin, he never turned the second cheek for abuse but also a calculated fighter who knows when to dodge. No matter what, Azikiwe and Ojukwu are not in the same sphere or in competition for a trophy. Yet, both of them were born in the North and were brought up in Lagos where they attended Kings College and Methodist Boys High School at different periods.

They agreed up to a point and disagreed when one thought the other was going too far. I remembered that Ojukwu recalled Zik home during the war for “consultation.” Zik was his father’s mate not his. When two kids are chopping a tree in the bush, only the elders know where the tree will fall, says a Yoruba proverb.

Apart from our parents, there are very few heroes these days. Azikiwe, dead or alive (there are some sightings) qualify as our hero. Up to the first part of the war, Ojukwu was still a hero to many Nigerians. It was more than the usual sympathy for the underdog. He hardly spoke and when he did, we all marveled. As a boy, I was fascinated. We used to sing along with Radio Biafra:

You come by road, we finish una
You come by sea, we finish una
You come by air we finish una

Even after the war, on his way back home to Lagos, Nigerians were apprehensive. We all wanted to just catch a glimpse of him in Lagos. Many Hausa were happy because it was supposed to close a chapter in the act of magnanimity, Yoruba were happy because he was missed dearly and the Igbo were happy because a son had returned home. Sorry, I mean it was a mixture of all these amongst majority of each Ethnic group. How did he squander this goodwill?

He joined a political party! We all tried to rationalize it as a condition for his release. Fairly or unfairly he never got elected. We know better and we should have known better then. Nobody tells Ojukwu what to do! A man who was welcomed and visited every part of Nigeria on his return later became any other politician, parading thugs as Ikemba Front divided his base. Now he is seen as one of the Igbo leaders, and propagates himself as the only Igbo leader looking for someone to pass his baton. Well, that is for others to judge.

But when anybody insinuates or may be misinterpreted on the Zik of Africa, there are Igbo and Africans that will stand up. We all have our faults, so was Zik and some of us have pointed that out. Not only did he dream, he made them come true. He defended his coalition with NPC as a way to save the Country. In the process, not only did he achieve his aim for Nigeria, he carved a niche for Ndi Igbo, some of whom are (mis-)interpreting Ojukwu comment today diverting us from our esiewu, cold palm wine and that third term. For an ordinary folk like me to say enough, many can not take anymore put-down.

Where are the Njoku, Nwachuku, OkotiEboh, Akinjide, Akinloye, Benson, Balarabe, Rimi ... defending Zik? If Zik did not do anything for Igbo, who did? If it was not for Zik, with all respect we did not know Dr. Opara in NCNC. As far as the National politics of NCNC was concern, Zik brought him from no where, it was not his turn. That Dr. Opara came and performed wonders as many Igbo feel, should not discredit his benefactor. We have enough room to credit both. There is no doubt that Sir Ojukwu, a notable successful Lagos businessman, discussed politics with Zik but he was no politician of Azikiwe stature. He was not in the position to instruct Opara on implementation from great architectural designer or dreamer of the East. That was the man himself, Azikiwe.

Some people need to speak up. It was Zik’s house that was attacked and we said no rational Igbo man would do that. Well, well Awolowo statue was disfigured in Ibadan, it could not have been done by a rational Yoruba we thought. Even during Zik lifetime, Okadigbo called him “ranting of an ant” and Zik had wisely advised Asika to enjoy his time in the sun. My fear is that young men and women are listening, reading and wondering if this is the same Zik, we are talking about. This is not an Igbo thing, it is an African thing. When we were kicking out the children of Nkrumah in the eighties blaming everything that was wrong with Nigeria on them, it was Zik who raised alarm. Has Nigeria gotten better since then?

This comment and the discussions generated are not limited to the beer parlor, parties or internet. Our future leaders, our children are discussing it. They do research for school papers that may not be deep enough to explore all angles. We may sensitize them to the uninformed views of the maligned promoters. It is hard to build but easier to destroy.

I still see a vivid picture in my memory of the leaders sitting down on the carpet for dinner at the invitation of Sir Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna. Some of us wondered in those days why we fought one another when these leaders were amicable to one another eating and drinking. What they do behind the scene might be different but leaders owe one another some amount of civility, at least when speaking in public.

I find it very hard to believe that some Igbo figured that Zik never did anything for their benefit. He was not a saint, nobody is, but that this great icon of our time did not benefit the old Eastern Region is absurd. It says more about their selective and convenient memories than about Azikiwe’s deeds. He built the foundation and the progressive educational environment on which Ndi Igbo stand. If he had named every project after himself, would anyone deny him today? What did detractors build in the East?

I do not personally know about Zik childhood days in Lagos but my parents, aunties and uncles told me stories. A town boy, who mingled and spoke the parlance language. He was a ladies’ man who chased those Lagos girls because he was smart in school and handsome though not as rich. I still remember one of them, Aunty Esther, my mother’s classmate. She hated Zik for hanging around all those Popo Aguuda and Saro girls at the Brazilian quarters and not Igbo like her. Aunty probably lost the battle to others at Queen College because Zik ended up with a girl from home. Ironically Ojukwu’s rascality was not very different from that of Zik in Lagos.

Zik was destined to be a leader because he exceeded in many things he did. The neighbors loved him before and after his American sojourn. He was so loved, he was elected from Ikeja to the Western House. As a loyal lieutenant of Herbert Macaulay in NCNC and members of the Lagos elite who brought Nigeria into the modern day nationhood, the Igbo gained from him than from anyone else I can think of. Of course there were local heroes in the towns and villages, none of them gained the advantage and clout Zik had to negotiate or pull up his Ethnic group into positions. Man pas man, position pass power.

I think the Igbo have to be careful how they tear each other up. There were days Yoruba complained about the lack of discipline amongst themselves. They would say: Go to the North, if Ahmadu Bello said one thing, the Hausa/Fulani united under him. If Azikiwe said one thing, the Igbo united under him. The same was true of Professor Eyo Ita amongst his kin. If Awolowo said anything, Yoruba were ready to question him.

Well, those days are gone. We have all turned inside out tearing our home into pieces. If it is not good for the Yoruba, it can not be good for the Igbo, Efik, Tiv, Ijaw or the Hausa. Some people have even gone further that it is worse amongst Igbo. They point to a saying – Igbo enwe’eze. The interpretation has gone wild from Igbo has no king to Igbo has no leaders. The fact is Nigeria has no leaders. Dead woods dictators keep on recurring.

Any leader or anyone that is put in the position of respectability will pull himself down if he does not respect those before him. We are now at a stage where we have lost African civility for our elders. Yes, in the City of Umofia where age is respected, reverence is given to hard work, if Things Fall Apart served my memory right. We neither respect the hard work of those before us nor the achievement of the young.

As a little boy, I noticed the difference between those elders who prayed that we would supersede them in all our endeavors and those who wish the young never made it to their standard. Both the young and the old can draw benefits from their achievements; there is no need for one to trivialize the other.

Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa

Posted by Administrator at May 27, 2006 03:21 PM


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