Introduction and Justification for the Foundation
The narrative of any society cannot be written in isolation of their heroes. It is for this reason that many societies go the extra-mile to immortalize their heroes in an attempt to pass on to future generations the correct narratives of their evolutional trajectory. Our people have a saying that he who does not know where the rain drenched him may not likely know where the rain dried. Ndigbo are reputed for their sense of justice and respect for the dead, especially those that have impacted their lives positively.
Remembering heroes of the past by societies is not a new phenomenon. In the ancient Greek civilization, we can read of the immortalization of such heroes in the Homeric Iliad and the Odyssey. Admired through the ages as the ultimate epic, the heroes in the Iliadand Odyssey were venerated by the ancient Greeks themselves as the cornerstone of their civilization. In ancient Egypt, such heroes were memorialized on papyrus and engraved on stones and also the pyramids. In recent history, there are welter of literatures and foundations established by societies to immortalize their heroes.
One of the commonest ways to immortalize legends in Nigeria is by naming streets, public buildings and institutions after them; eg the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, etc
While the immortalization of our heroes through naming of objects leaves a permanent impression in the minds, organizing annual lectures in honour of the icons provokes thoughts on the lives and times of the personages.
Even in Nigeria, with all our tendencies for collective amnesia and pursuit of trivia instead of substance, some ethnic groups have broken the limitations of such despondency to commemorate the lives of their heroes. In the old northern region, the Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation stands out as a memorial for the late northern leader. In the Yoruba nation, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundationhas been established as a platform for the Yoruba to chronicle the exploits of Awolowo in Nigeria, articulate his views and ideology as a guiding philosophy for Afenifere. Among the Ijaws, the Isaac Adaka Boro Foundation is writ large on the Ijaw nation.
Unfortunately, in Igboland, a land that is figuratively flowing with milk and honey; a land noted for its ingenuity, creativity, vision and intellectual prowess, we seem to have forgotten this fundamental aspect of our narrative. For reasons that cannot be explained, we seem to have ignored the necessity of establishing a Foundation in memory of the great Nnamdi Azikiwe. By all definitions and descriptions, Nnamdi Azikiwe is a hero, not just in Igboland but also in Nigeria and beyond. A hero is one who knowingly risks his or her own life to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person. Nnamdi Azikiwe knowingly risked his life to dare the British in order to have a politically independent Nigeria. He did this at great risk to his life and comfort.
Hence, it is important that with Zik’s translation into immortality, we as Ndigbo must initiate processes to ensure the continuity of that communion with which he consecrated his beloved Ndigbo and the Nigerian state. Establishing a Foundation in his honour, therefore, would be a befitting tribute to him in his overall philosophical testament, whose vitality is as cogent today as it was in Zik’s time. The sacredness of Zik’s vision cannot be bound by history or culture. It was and still is a universal avowal of common sense and decorous experience; a kind of ritual of purification whose emblem is the fraternity of all nations, races and people on the standpoint of equality, egalitarianism and freedom. Therein lies the justification for the establishment of Nnamdi Azikiwe Foundation.
Synoptic Profile of Nnamdi Azikiwe
His Excellency, The Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), popularly known as Zik of Africa, is mostly regarded as the father of Nigeria; and perhaps, that accounts for why the International Airport, Abuja is named after him. Azikiwe served Nigeria in various capacities: as a radical and plaintive journalist, nationalist, party leader, legislator, minister, premier, senate president, governor –general and finally the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of the prominent leading lights of the Igbo nation. He was among the first generation of Igbos that stowed away to the United States of America (USA) for further studies. He passed through the Storer College, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Howard University, Washington DC and Lincoln University, Pennsylvania all in the USA. He earned both Bachelors and Masters Degrees in the areas of history, anthropology, religion, philosophy, journalism and political science.
By 1935, Azikiwe had become a house-hold name in Nigeria. His flair for writing and fiery speeches against colonialism, cultural imperialism, subjugation and other forms of injustices against blacks in general and Nigerians in particular were so spot-on that even the street man was caught by the bug of nationalism. In addition, the highly-inspiring profile of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe fired the ambitions of several other Africans such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe and several other Igbos. The Zik phenomenon propelled several Igbo such that before the Nigerian independence in 1960, numerous Igbo graduates were on hand to embrace the post-colonial bureaucracy. Beyond that, Nnamdi Azikiwe was very proud of his Igbo origin. Azikiwe was quoted as saying that the God of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from bondage of the ages, (Ezeani, 2016:70).
Azikiwe was readily available in defence of the Igbo while he reigned. For instance, at the Thirteenth Annual Assembly of the Ibo Union, held in Owerri Hall, Enugu on December 19, 1954, Azikiwe bemoaned:
I know that the patience of the Ibo-speaking peoples is being tasked to the limit of human endurance, not only by the irresponsible pronouncements of certain political leaders of this country and abroad, but also by the vulgar, provocative, abusive and insulting references to the Ibo in certain sections of the British and Nigerian Press; yet the law enforcement officers see no need for intervention.
That was the case in 1948 when the Ibo people in Lagos sought the machete option as a solution (Zik: A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe, page: 251)
From the above remarks, what Azikiwe said in 1954 is not far from what Chief John Nnia Nwodo, the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo said in 2017. Similarly, Azikiwe, the visionary, as far back as 1949 had argued that the basis for one Nigeria must be anchored on self determination for the component ethno-linguistic groups that make up Nigeria. In a keynote address delivered by the immortal Nnamdi Azikiwe to the Ibo State Assembly in Aba on June 25th, 1949, he emphasized that the central focus of his speech was self-determination for the Ibo nation within the context of one Nigeria. According to Azikiwe:
Let us establish an Ibo State, based on linguistic and ethnic factors, enabling us to take our place side by side with the other linguistic and ethnic groups which make up Nigeria and the Cameroons. With the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Yoruba, Ibibio (Iboku), Angus (Bi-Rom), Tiv, Ijaw, Edo, Urhobo, ltsekiri, Nupe, Igalla, Ogaja, Gwari, Duala, Bali and other nationalities asserting their right to self-determination each as separate as the fingers, but united with others as a part of the same hand, we can reclaim Nigeria and the Cameroons from this degradation which it has pleased the forces of European imperialism to impose upon us. Therefore, our meeting today is of momentous importance in the history of the Ibo, in that opportunity has been presented to us to heed the call of a despoiled race, to answer the summons to redeem a ravished continent, to rally forces to the defence of a humiliated country, and to arouse national consciousness in a demoralized but dynamic nation (Source: Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik: A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria formerly President of the Nigerian Senate formerly Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961).
It will be recalled that during the First Republic there were three major political parties, namely, the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by Azikiwe, Northern People’s Congress (NPC) led by Alhaji (Sir) Ahmadu Bello and the Action Group (AG) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It will also be recalled that even within the context of these centrifugal political forces, Nnamdi Azikiwe was able to harness various social movements such as the trade unions, market women organizations, town unions, etc to nurture the NCNC into a very formidable grassroots political party across the country. The NCNC, in coalition with the NPC, formed the central government that received the instrument of authority from Great Britain. Furthermore, the NCNC government of the defunct Eastern Region left highly impressionable legacies in almost all the 12 provinces that comprised the Eastern region.
It can be said that when Nigeria rested on a tripod of the East, West and North, Dr Azikiwe was not found wanting; rather with his exceptional political sagacity, skill and wizardry, he penetrated the West and won election into the Western Regional House of Assembly. His party, the NCNC, had the majority in the House and Azikiwe was to form the government in the Western Region before the carpet-crossing episode that redefined the scope of tribal politics of post-colonial Nigeria. The rest is now history.
Azikiwe was known to have promoted the popular Ibo union and town unions in all the Igbo communities. The town unions and the Ibo Union built Igbo halls, primary and secondary schools, churches and recreation centres in many cities of the North and the West. The town unions supported the brilliant but indigent students who gained admissions into the universities both in Nigeria and abroad. It was such vision that gave birth to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) anchored on the vision of restoring the dignity of man.
The motto of the UNN- To Restore the Dignity of Man– is in line with the philosophy he enunciated in his book-TheRenascentAfrica. According to Azikiwe, the self-reliant African must attain a certain level of mental emancipation, spiritual balance, economic determinism, political resurgence and social regeneration. Azikiwe was unequivocal that knowledge is power. He, indeed, rightfully and futuristically deployed his intellectual prowess in the service of his people.
In my candid opinion, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha was larger than life. He was the greatest of the politicians of his time. Paradoxically, his contemporaries are more celebrated and commemorated. A search on the Internet is very scarce with colloquiums, symposiums and memorial lectures on the late sage, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Some efforts have been made in the past, including the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka to address this all important question but the inability to sustain the effort or to give a collective Igbo backing to such efforts stares all of us in the face.
Records show that “the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation” was founded by the Governors of the 19 northern states of Nigeria in cooperation with the associates, friends, admirers and well-wishers of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, KBE, the Sardauna of Sokotoand Premier of the former northern region. According to impeccable sources, the Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation was established to foster the legacy of leadership and good governance bequeathed by Sir Ahmadu Bello for the human and economic development of northern Nigeria.
Similarly, the website of Chief Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, on the other hand is very rich with information about the man- Awo, his philosophy, accomplishments and legacies. As stated earlier, some persons were as passionate as we are today about this missing link in Nigerian political history.
The Need for the Foundation:
The current Ohanaeze leadership headed by the prodigious intellectual, Chief John Nnia Nwodo has begun with rightful landmark steps that are at the heart of the Igbo. The Nwodo leadership has been able to re-inspire pride, hope and confidence in the Igbo population. We are gradually regaining our pride of place in the comity of the Nigerian ethnics.
One of the processes towards the political resurgence of the Igbo is to elevate to public consciousness the heroics of the great Igbos that ever lived. Such personages include, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr. M. I. Okpara, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Mbonu Ojike, Chief C. C. Onoh, Dr. Denis Osadebe, Major Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, etc It is envisaged that lecture series on the above icons will highlight the courage, intellect, vision, patriotism, sacrifice and tenacity they displayed in the past, and will in various ways fire the zeal and achievement motivations in our youths. On the other hand, the more the sterling qualities of the above Igbo personages are highlighted, the more likely the virtues are imbibed by the younger generations of Ndigbo.
Moving the Motion for the Establishment of the Foundation:
Based on the above backdrop, it is with a deep sense of duty and responsibility that I move a motion that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo should in collaboration with the South East Governors establish a sustainable Foundation in memory of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, GCFR. I am not unmindful of the fact that Azikiwe was by far larger than the South East of Nigeria but a journey of 1000km, according to a Chinese proverb, begins with a step. On the other hand, Ohanaeze Ndigbo owes it a duty to set the machinery in motion for both the eastern regional and national embrace. Expectedly, some other Igbo personages will either be celebrated by the entire South East of Nigeria or their states of origin… I so move.
Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia
Source: The Nigerian Voice (opinions)