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TranscriptCNN International interviewwith Nigeria's President Obasanjoand USAfricaonline.com Publisher ChidoNwangwu on Democracy and Security Issues
Zik of Africa:Statesman, Intellectual and Titan of Africanpolitics
This tribute-essay by USAfricaonline.comPublisher Chido Nwangwu was first written while he lived in Nigeriain October 1988. It has been updated online, yearly, for the greatDr. Azikiwe's birthday since November 16, 1993 to date, November 16,2005
Flashback to Monday, January 11, 1960:
Thefirst business session of the Nigerian Senate in Lagos is inprogress. It is a full-house impregnated with lofty, patrioticexpectations 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 amhappy that a man who had spent all his life working for the politicalemancipation of his peopleand for the independence of this country should be the first tobecome the president of this..."
The announcement was welcomed with warm, loud applause. Then,with a dignified presidential bearing, and standing tall beyond sixfeet, Zik, the spearhead of the struggle for Nigeria's politicalindependence, early apostle of pan-Africanism, continued his upwardmobility in Nigeria's political history and arena. Nnamdi Azikiwe'Zik of Africa', was born on November 16, 1904 at Zungeru, northernNigeria. He lived as the master of crafty political game-plans. He,like Dr. K.O Mbadiwe, lived as Nigeria's foremost neologist andwordsmith extraordinaire.
Wednesday, October 12, 1988:
In the bowel of the Nsukka hills, a shouting distance from myalma mater, Nigerias first indigenous university, University ofNigeria, is a quiet, but remarkable home, the Onuiyi Haven. I livedbriefly, like most first year students at the Zik's flats, whcih wasa few minutes walking distance from Azikiwe's Onuiyi Haven.Appropriately, that remarkable stately residence is called Onuiyi.Onuiyi is an Igbo word which ordinarily means the source of astream.
Indeed, here, a stream of wisdom flows from a sage, the grand masterof Nigerian politics; it flows at a finely calibrated tempo and witha disarming subtlety. For many decades, the sages river of wisdom hasnourished generations and cultures, academic gurus and village wags,politicos and iron surgeons (soldiers), kings and queens, princes andplebians. 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. Inalmost all public and private ceremonies, he has assisted Dr.Azikiwe.
At 2:48 p.m., Okolo directs this reporter through the second gate. AsI walked the staircase with him, thoughts and questions began to formrapidly on my mind like a fresh colony of mushrooms on a beautifultropical sunrise.
For example, what if Dr. Azikiwe emerged now, what should be thefirst question? Should I follow my planned interview-plot or apply aflexible, situational tactic and flow with the disposition of thesage?
Although Okolo knew I was coming, I still pondered: Will the titan ofAfrican politics grant me just 20 minutes, 10 minutes?
Will he even talk to me? If he did, by any measure in the Africancontinent, it would have been my biggest, most important interview.(Then, I was just in my early twenties serving as Assistant Editor ofPlatform magazine in Lagos; that's shortly after I left the NigerianTelevision Authority as a news and programming presenter).
There were questions I wanted to ask concerning Azikiwe'sautobiographical magnum opus he titled, My Odyssey.Remarkably, 25 years after that books release, our brother Gen. ColinPowell's bestseller is similarly titled, My American Journey.
For all serious students of pan-Africanism, African culture andnationalism and United States-Africa-Nigeria relations, Azikiwesbooks, especially Renascent Africa are vital, a must-read. I read MyOdyssey in 1976 at the Bishop Johnson Street residence of my brother,Samson Orji Nwangwu, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
No other secular book at the time I was growing up helped define andshape my intellectual destination and outlook better than Azikiwe'sautobiography, My Odyssey. Though this lion of Africa's nationalismis dead, many of us await to see if his staff and children will helpfulfil the promise and task he set for himself in London as stated inthe 1970 preface to My Odyssey.
In it he stated: "In a subsequent volume, I hope to discuss how Ifounded the African Continental Bank; my entry into the orbit ofNigerian Politics; my participation in the crusade for the freedom ofNigerian; my stewardship as Premier of Eastern Nigeria; the foundingof the University of Nigeria; my tenure as Governor-General of theFederation of Nigeria and then President of the Federal Republic ofNigeria."
Azikiwe'scolorful and combative entry into the trying times of nationalisticagitation and post-independence partisan politics has been supportedand illuminated by his penetrating prolific, and incisive literarypower. Azikiwe lived as the better embodiment of Nigeria's and indeedAfrica's "philosopher-king" - alongside the likes of Kwame Nkrumah ofGhana and Leopold Senghor of Senegal in the 1960s. Yet, to this day,the followers and foes of the artful Azikiwean political stratagemand craftiness expected Nigeria's most durable political figure stillseek to clear a forest of issues obstructing a thorough understandingof events and personalities in the development of Nigeria, especiallyhis relationship with the late nationalists Chief Obafemi Awolowo,Ahmadu Bello and the Zikist Movement.
Contrary to dangerously uninformed, pedestrian revisionism ofNigeria's nationalist struggle by some fellows, that country did notget its independence "on a platter of gold" during Azikiwe's time.For instance, just as recent as Thursday, August 24, 1983 in a widelycirculated open-letter to Nigerians, which he titled "History willvindicate the Just," former president Azikiwe reminded the attentiveof the struggle to free and build that richly-endowed country of 100million.
As the grandmaster of Nigeria's politics passed, what manner ofgoverning legacy will those uniformed tin-gods masquerading asleaders and their conniving greedy, gang of buccaneer politicians doin memory of "our father?" The answer, my friends, is blowing inwind.
Regardless, as Nnamdi Azikiwe, principal witness, eminent scholar,key player and insightful chronicler of African and Nigerian history,politics, culture, sociology, arts, enterprise, ethics, journalismand diplomacy passes on (he told anyone who listened that hes not ina hurry to leave this planet), the mans array of accolades anddistinctions and a handful of unfulfilled hopes remain a veryinstructive profile in the world, particularly, within the universeof people of African descent.
I strongly believe that when all the vital indicators and elements ofleadership are considered, and a millennial choice worthy of seriousconsideration and debate is made; a choice which can stand the testof time and serious intellectual assessment, Nnamdi Azikiwe is trulythe closest approximation to a philosopher King in Nigeria (likeKwame Nkrumah in Ghana, and Nelson Mandela in South Africa). No otherNigerian is more deserving; and no one has a thread running throughthe longest duration of the geopolitical history of Nigeria; notwithin the past 100 years. None. Azikiwe is the one. He didmore to bring Nigerians together, with all of its imperfections andinequities.
The Owelle gave Nigerian nationalism an actual, federalistic impetusmore than any other Nigerian. He traversed the key events ofNigeria's history more than any other.
Above all his predecessors and contemporaries, his intellect remainedlucid like a thousand candles in a poorly lit room.
Although, he compromised on certain issues many would have preferredhe stuck to his guns. He left a few decisive battles he could havefought beyond his ideal vision of things. Which leads me to thequestion: What if Azikiwe had gone beyond the ought-to in his agendafor Nigeria and his place in history, may be that country's presenthistory could have been different. It's just a thought, just amay be. But who am I to raise questions regarding the wisdom of ourfather, our pathfinder, the navigator, the pacesetter?
Imagine the sad, embarrasing turn, the sad news in November 2005 ofthe burning of parts of his own home in Onitsha during aviolent confrontation between Nigeria's police and the MASSOB areentirely unfortunate and condemnable.
Today November 16, in what could have been his 101st birthday, may I make this toast to our father, the great and unmatchedone. Here, to:
The Zik of Africa, master of crafty political game-plans, member of athousand learned associations, eminent alumnus of Howard, MichiganState, Pennsylvania, and Lincoln Universities, founder of Universityof Nigeria, Nsukka (my alma mater), father of generations, inimitablewordsmith of euphonious diction and oratorical elegance, poet andpolitician, statesman and living legend, I thank for illuminating mymind, our collective mind. Even after 101 years, your lineage andworks endure. On this your 101st birth date, I rise, again, topropose a toast that in another 101 years to come, thatthe son of my now 46 months old son Chido Nwangwu II, byHis grace, Chido Nwangwu III, will also rise to toast to honoryou, Zik of Africa, for the plenitude of roles and assortedinspirations you brought to all of us. They will rise to toast to Zikof Africa, as the man who saw tomorrow. Nna anyi Owelle, nwaEze Chima, ndeewo!!!
ChidoNwangwu, a member of theNnamdi Azikiwe Foundation and analyst on CNN International and theVoice of America, is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com(first African-owned U.S.-basedprofessional newspaper to be published on the internet), CLASSmagazine, The Black Business Journal, BBJonline.com, and in 2006 NigerianBanks.com. Chido traveled with and coveredU.S. President Clinton's visit to parts of Africa March-April 2,1998, and Nigeria in August 2000 and served on HoustonMayor Lee Brown's international business advisory board (Africa). Heis the recipient of the 1997 Journalism Excellence and Public Policyawards.
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"I hope I have shown it is possible to show respect to English and Igbo together. Chinua Achebe added that "The situation may well develop in the future, in which the different languages of Africa will begin to reassert themselves," he added. "I have made provision for that myself, by writing certain kinds of material in Igbo. For instance, I will insist my poetry is translated back into Igbo while I'm still around."
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Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
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