TranscriptCNN International Interview with Nigeria's PresidentObasanjo and Publisher Chido Nwangwu onDemocracyand Security Issues

Prof. ChimereIkoku: Remembering the legacy of a pan-Africanist, scientist andgentleman

By Prof. Chudi Uwazurike

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston,TheBlack Business Journal and

New York, October 31, 2002: It is with profound sense of shockthat I join others in lamenting the killing of the distinguishedscientist and pan-Africanist, Prof. Chimere Ikoku, in his ownresidence in October 2002. The senseless murder of this retiredacademic and world-renowned figure, has sent shock waves across theinternational community of scholars who have followed his stellarcareer over the years. But his violent demise speaks volumes thatecho beyond a single man - once more it sets back the struggle byNigeria to be seen as a normal polity.

I last saw the esteemed professor in 1994-1995 when he accompaniedNigeria's first president Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe on his trip to theUnited States - having just completed his term as Vice Chancellor ofthe University of Nigeria - along with Chief Sonny Odogwu andProfessor V.C. Ekpechi, the Owelle's personal physician. Former VicePresident Dr. Alex Ekwueme was on hand as were over 100 other notableNigerians from all parts of the country. They had arrived in thecompany of an intimate entourage that included Chief (Mrs.) OpralBenson, the new UNN Vice Chancellor O.K. Udeala, Princess TejumadeAlakija, and others.

The various Nigerian diplomats in the States led by AmbassadorsZubeiru Kazaure from Washington and Ibrahim Gambari at the UN, joinedhundreds of Nigerians and Africans from all walks of life - OkechukwuIkejiani, Richard Sklar, Chinua Achebe, Edward Blyden, Ali Mazrui,Martin Kilson, others - in rallying to the presence of the lastliving symbol of Nigeria's chequered history, a situation heightenedby the grave peril posed by the Stalinist military dictatorshipimposed by the Goggled One, the scheming General Sani Abacha..

An incident that occurred goes to demonstrate Ikoku's vision andmaturity. We had been in the waiting room downstairs while the Owelletook his rest upstairs, listening to the political war-horsesreminisce over the good old days of nationalist struggle and theAfrican American role. We were all dressed for the church servicesthat would start in an hour's time. Suddenly word came that ChiefM.K.O. Abiola, who was then in self-exile, had arrived for the event- uninvited.

This was at the height of his struggle with r Abacha before whomNigerians stood in dread just as Iraqis tremble today with regard toSaddam. The question immediately arose: was he on the invitationlist? If he was, how would the inevitable photo opportunity be usedto show that Zik had taken sides despite his commitment to a peacefulsettlement of the disputed elections? Remember many still saw him asa clever schemer who even as a nanogenarian, had to be watched forwhat he may be signaling. Instead what I saw was an unhappyex-warrior who craved his privacy. Zik truly seemed to have meant itwhen he angrily retired from public life after the rigging of the1983 elections and had sworn off being dragged into any furtherpolitical disputes; at 90, he was not about to start over.

There were therefore genuine issues for his team to consider, forone: could pro-Abiola demonstrators show up to denounce the FederalGovernment, just as Ghanaians had trooped down when Jerry Rawlingscame down to be honored at the historic university. There was yetanother possibility that this might yet be another ploy by Abachawhose agents may like nothing than to humiliate the old man just asthey had the Sultan of Sokoto, thereby making it clear that theKanuri general was the one supreme figure in all of Nigeria whom noone dared brook. Recall that even the famed Maradona who had startedthe whole slide, Gen. Babangida, seemed to keep a clear distance fromAbacha, and essentially kept his mouth shut regarding his successor'santics - to this day.

 The group was understandably inclined to shield the old manfrom the potential tumult that could reverberate from Pennsylvania toAbuja. It took all of the Professor's Ikoku's diplomatic skills toconvince the group to have me, as Co-Chairman of the internationalconference, drive over to the house of Dr. F. Oluyitan, where Abiolawas, with Zik's private secretary Alphonso Okolo, and find outdirectly from the legendary Egba high chief, philanthropist, andVictor of June 12, the real reason he had flown in unannounced.

I still remember the compactly-built MKO, so full of life and hopefor the actualization of his mandate despite his travails, as heexplained his desire to pay his respects to the ageing visionary whostirred a passive British colony with his call for 'politicalresorgimento' at a time of 'ebullition.' MKO had been so awed in hisyouth that that he had joined the Zikist Vanguard . He meant no harm,and hearing about the unique conference being organized in Zik'shonor while he was still in the US, it would have been remiss if hedidn't show up. We headed back to Lincoln House where afterdeliberations, we were sent back to the mogul, a routine that wouldhappen a few more times. He was allowed to be part of the events -and he could be seen in the photographs in my 1996 book, The ManCalled Zik of New Africa: Portrait of Nigeria's Pan-AfricanStatesman, the revised edition of which is due out on Nov. 16

 At that conference, I could still see Ikoku smiling as Zik,with his wife beside him, disclaimed sole authorship of Nigeria'sindependence. Slowly raising himself during his response to theencomiums, the Owelle reeled off the names of 'my departedcompatriots' from all over Nigeria - starting with the late PrimeMinister, His Excellency the Rt Hon. Tafawa Bealwa, the Sarduana ofSokoto, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his political godfather HerbertMacualay, Aminu Kano, Raji Abdallah, Eyo Ita - without whom Nigeria'sfreedom would have been impossible. He ran through a list of namesonly the older generation might remember well. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwedied a year and half later - and Abiola himself would join theancestors in 1999 when General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar, inexplicablydelayed releasing the June 12 victor - until he died, Nigeriansbelieve, as a resulting of poisoning in Aso Rock, despite the reportof the Canadian and American medical examiners flown in for anautopsy.

Even they would be shocked at the cheapness of life in Nigeria'snew democracy and the relative passivity with which the new powerelite seem to regard these unfortunate events. One's reaction has tobe seen in the context of the frustration of many Nigerians worldwideat the inability of the Federal Government to take the securityclimate seriously enough to declare it a national emergency. I amaware of the bill on security recently rejected by the NationalAssembly - but with all the bickering, the ordinary citizen is at theconstant mercy of hoodlums. The consequence should have long beenclear to Aso Rock: how can any serious investor contemplate doinganything long-lasting in Nigeria, a country where the AttorneyGeneral, Chief Bola Ige, could be so wantonly assassinated, and noone can bring his killers to book? A month before his death, he hadbeen to New York where he won a seat on a UN law commission, and hadbeen jauntily hosted by the Nigerian ambassador in New York, ChiefArthur Mbanefo. Weeks later he was gone. As we chatted with him aboutNigeria, there was no hint he would become yet another casualty in acycle that mocks us as a troubled giant of a civilization in deepcrisis.

The trend is widespread and getting worse as the bitter showdownover 2003 looms - notable politicians from Kano and Kaduna, Ogun,Kwara and Rivers States, Anambra and Enugu, have all had narrowbrushes with death at the hands of hired assassins often disguised arobbers; in many other cases they have been assassinated, often withnothing stolen, sometimes in front of their terrified families. Southand North, Nigerians in their hundreds and more, are being killed andthe official response seems to be business as usual, with a few morepolicing measures.

In the same breadth, one can say the same for Victor Nwankwo, thepublisher whose brother Arthur, was an inspiration to us during thestudent movement days of the 1970s. Over the years I have run intoVictor at the academic conferences, notably the international AfricanStudies Association. To imagine that this vibrant and talentedengineer-turned books publisher, is another statistic in the saga of'lawless Nigeria' as many call it, is another reason to rue the cropof leaders Nigeria continues to be saddled with.

On balance, there is no need to weep with pity for Prof. Ikoku -he has run his race, with the all-too human ups and downs. Hisprouder moments might have been when he championed the nationalanti-apartheid fund drive in the 1970s while Vice Chancellor of oneof the northern universities in the 1970s. Then, his being able to beof some assistance to the legendary Zik clearly filled him with asense of satisfaction in saluting the man whose activities for goodor ill, led to Nigeria's freedom and an early place the map of worldaffairs.

By the same token his most trying time must have been his ViceChancellorship of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, my once brightalma mater, where in the 1970s we had received a sound education thatenabled us walk into any academy anywhere in the world and provedcompetitive. Ikoku had the misfortune of running a university whenkiller cults, gangs, drug addicts, military thugs and the like,invaded the hallowed sanctuaries of academe, sucking dry its veryessence. Though he managed to prevent the total collapse of theplace, his subsequent stint in the controversial Petroleum Trust Fundwhere Muhammadu Buhari succeeded in ignoring the East in theparceling out of the billions accruing, many have been his leastsatisfactory role.

Ikoku was a consummate gentleman, scholar and good heart, so tosay, who looked forward to a quiet retirement. Last time I met Profwas at his Enugu residence, where he and his charming wife of manyyears, received us most warmly. On behalf of his many admirers acrossthe world and members of the Zikist, I wish to bid Prof. Ikoku a fondfarewell. You will be missed - yet ever remembered.
Uwazurike, formerpresident of the University of Nigeria Student Union (1977-1978), isCity University of New York professor and Senior Fellow, Institutefor Research on the African Diaspora and the Caribbean, IRADAC. He isfounder of African Profiles USA magazine, chairman of the NnamdiAzikiwe Memorial Society USA, Executive Director of The Global Forumon 21st Century Nigeria and chairman of the World Igbo CongressIntergovernmental Affairs Council. One of his recent efforts appearedin the October 15, 2002 edition of USAfrica The NewspaperArts and Literature sectionand on titled'Prolific scholar Chudi Uwazurike readies "WithWhom The Gods Dance"' Thistribute will appear, also, in the print edition ofUSAfrica.

Ikoku as research scientist inBiafra's Chemistry Group of RAP

By Prof. Chikwendu ChristianUkaegbu

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston,TheBlack Business Journal

Speaking of the late scholar's proudermomemt, I would like to add that Prof. Chimere Ikoku's proudestmoment was during the Biafra war when he headed the Chemistry Groupin that iconic agency of the human will and human creative spiritknown as Research and Production (RAP). He was the head of theChemistry Group of RAP, earlier based in Uzuakoli and later moved toanother location, probably Okigwe/Uturu, when federal troops overranUmuahia and environs. Prof. Ikoku's Chemistry Group was strategicallyinvolved in the Biafran war effort through the production war-relatedmaterials. He headed a group of accomplished scientists,supported bysecondary and higher school youths, to make the Chemistry Group oneof the most important and visible groups in RAP. He was in the sameleague with the lengendary G.O Ezekwe, B.C.E Nwosu (both of blessedmemory); A. N. U. Njokuobi, M. O. Chijioke, H.U Kaine (now Edo), G.B. Leton (now Rivers State),J. Ezilo, W. Achukwu and a host of otherunique brains and minds. RAP represented what Biafra would have been,and Prof. Chimere Ikoku contributed immensely to thatorganization. May he rest in perfect peace.
Ukaegbu,one of the key leaders of the UNN alumni in the U.S., graduated fromthe Sociology/Anthropolgy Class of 1975.

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