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Zik: Icon, meteor of endless times

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THE primordial times were the halcyon days of the survival of the fittest. European nations invaded Africa, in what came to be documented in history as the scramble for Africa. In the wake of this invasion, a multiplicity of African countries became pawns to the countries of Europe. Some of the conquering European nations were France, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal. Nigeria was colonised by Great Britain.

It was the British emissary, Fredrick Lugard, who in 1914, amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates into what we know today as Nigeria.

As the world advanced in transportation, economics and commerce, a vast array of African youths travelled to Europe and the new world to acquire education. These new elites, who were attracted more by social science and journalism, discovered ab initio, the indignities inherent in colonialism. On return to Mother Africa, they resolved to frontally attack colonialism and all its ramifications.

This led to the birth of Pan Africanist groups in the two political divides of Anglophone and Francophone Africa. Colonial emancipation was the magic wand, which banded together the neo-African scholars, who saw in colonialism, the greatest obstacle to nation development.

After a brief stint of journalistic practice in the then Gold Coast, now Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe moved to Lagos, the cockpit of the nation’s political fireworks. His brain-child, the West African Pilot, became the champion in the onslaught against colonialism.

The hue and cry then was that Nigeria was then mature to be the arbiters of their own destiny. With this nascent awakening and hankering for independence, political parties were formed as agents for de-colonisation. Three political parties dominated the Nigerian political space.

They were the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), and the Action Group (AG). There were others like the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC).

Nnamdi Azikiwe, in concert with Nigerians like Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, J.S Tarka and others, on numerous occasions, travelled to London on constitutional conferences to request the colonial power to grant independence to Nigeria. Zik, as he was popularly known, was looked at as the de-facto leader of the Nigeria delegation, because of his high level of erudition and personal charisma.

Britain later acquiesced and the nation was granted independence on October 1, 1960. A general election was held earlier, to select the dramatis personae to steer the ship of the nation on independence. Observers of the nation’s political evolution, had hoped, that Nnamdi Azikiwe, was the most apt to rule the fledgling nation.

Conversely, the result of the general election did not produce an outright winner. A coalition of parties became the only available option. The NPC, NCNC and AG were the three dominant parties. Political hawks had wanted Zik to form a coalition with AG and dump the NPC to its feudalistic caste.

Zik weighed the available options, and felt it was better to subsume his personal ambition, on the seed-bed of Pan-Nigerianism. He accepted the merely ceremonial presidency, and allowed Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to become the Executive Prime Minister, so that Nigeria would remain one nation. Hitherto, patriotic Nigerians have never forgotten this amazing display of altruism.

Zik had in his numerous literary works, warned Nigerian politicians of their excesses. He reminded them that the fallout of their political brigandage would make the Congolese debacle a child’s play. It did not take long when Nigerian politicians, because of their gerrymandering and brinksmanship engulfed the nation in a war of attrition.

Caught up in the Biafran enclave, Zik did not espouse the concept of a divided nation. When he saw the situation getting very dire for the new nation, Zik crossed the Rubicon to Nigeria, to ensure safe landing, for the beleaguered new nation. This dramatic move by the great Zik of Africa, and his parley with Yakubu Gowon saved many lives.

When Zik died on the May 11, 1996, it sounded the death knell of one Nigeria. Indeed, there can never be another Zik. He was a shining star for all times. The military government of the time gave befitting burial to this icon, who bestrode the nation’s political scene like a colossus. The military government named the Abuja International Airport after this great Nigerian.

This action by the then military government, resonates with what happens in different states of Nigeria. The Nnamdi Azikiwe Street in Lagos is a bustling commercial nerve-centre. It is to be recalled that Zik built many structures during his earth’s odyssey and none was named after him. He founded the West African Pilot, the African Continental Bank, the University of Nigeria and Lagos City College.

Recently, the Anambra State House of Assembly called for the declaration of the date of birth of the political sage as public holiday.

This call is highly commendable as it will spur the youths of this country to remember that good works are always rewarded. Another Zik is difficult to replicate in the entire country. He hailed from the East, born in the North and nurtured in the West. He spoke Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa languages very fluently. The great patriot was born at Zungeru on 16th November, 1904, and died on the 11th May, 1996. The dates of birth and death are of immense significance in the lives of a man.

The good book underscores their importance. ‘A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death, than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to house of feasting for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better, the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. From the above, it becomes very obvious that 11th May, which is Zik’s date of death, is of greater importance than 16th of November his date of birth.

Every country has its own icon. Great Britain has Wilson Churchill. United States of America has Abraham Lincoln, African Americans have Martin Luther King (jnr), Kenya has Jomo Kenyatta, South Africa has Nelson Mandela and neighbouring Ghana has Kwame Nkrumah.

The Anambra State House of Assembly has made a pronouncement which should resonate with all patriotic Nigerians. The Anambra State Government and indeed all the South East Governments should select a day when all their citizens should venerate the father of African nationalism. Later, the entire nation may declare it a public holiday. Like the good book, I feel that 11th of May, Zik’s date of death is more appropriate.

As I end this treatise, it is essential to advise the nation’s education managers, not to trifle with the study of history in primary and secondary schools. Youths of the country should be conversant with their nation’s socio-political evolution. A nation without historical antecedents is akin to a man without roots.

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