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Long awaited Zik’s Day preps in Anambra

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IT IS very difficult for ordinary people to gain power and turn around the society. But that is actually for the common human person among the ‘ordinary’ folks.

   A peak into the lives of such great persons as Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe (best known as Zik) proves that it is possible for a very ordinary person to gain control of his space, his group and even his state through superior knowledge, special ability to galvarnise people, functional use of his endowments and effective communication. That is why he remains one of the greatest leaders Africa has produced in modern age and, to me, the greatest Nigerian of 20th century.

   This is why I am happy that finally, we are taking a concrete step towards a national Zik’s Day destination. In 48 hours, the first state commemoration of the birthday of Zik (who would have been 115 years-old on Saturday) will hold in Anambra State.

Ahead of the date that is now materialising, I had written on this column on Thursday, October 3, that I will be one of the happiest celebrators of a date recognised as special date for the great sage and philosopher king. Excerpts from the piece:

“One day, I will dance and merry on a November 16. I will celebrate the date with all other Nigerians as the landmark it is in our country’s history.

“On Tuesday, Anambra State governor, Dr. Willie Obiano, raised my expectation of the fruition of that day, during his speech on Nigeria’s 59th Independence. He called on the federal government to consider recognising November 16 as a national day. This his repeated call, has been backed by a decision of Anambra State House of Assembly.

“The date makes enough impact in the history of modern Nigeria to deserve such recognition.

“Apart from being the birth date of the first president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe (aka Zik of Africa) who was born, on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru, on November 16, 1960, became Governor-General of independent Nigeria with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and when Nigeria became a republic in 1963, he became the country’s first president. Though in both posts, Azikiwe’s role was largely ceremonial, his contributions to the redemption of Nigeria from the suppression of United Kingdom’s colonialism was immense.  

“To a large extent, the great Zik’s place in the annals of Nigeria as a rallying point for various Nigerian ethnicities, phelomenal leader and business man in his days, until he died on May 11, 1996, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu was larger than life. For our country and the entire Africa during the decades of struggle for liberation from colonial rule, he was a frontline philosopher, social mobiliser, orator and core financer of pan-Africanism.

He led the intelligentsia through his brilliant writings, thought-provoking books and vast media investments in his chain of popular newspapers that stoked the embers of revolution while informing, entertaining and educating readers across Sub-Sahara Africa.

“Zik who hailed from Onitsha, Anambra State was also a charismatic rebel, whose thoughts on a lot of topical issues boxed the colonialists to a corner and eventually got independence to several African countries, including Nigeria. His bruises for the struggle are too many to recount.    

“In May 1936, for example, he got into trouble for an article he wrote in African Morning Post. Excerpt: “Personally, I believe the European has a god in whom he believes and whom he is representing in his churches all over Africa. He believes in the god whose name is spelt Deceit.

 He believes in the god whose law is “Ye strong, you must weaken the weak”. Ye “civilised” Europeans, you must “civilise” the “barbarous” Africans with machine guns. Ye “Christian” Europeans, you must “Christianise” the “pagan” Africans with bombs, poison gases, etc.”

“And the article which he wrote in ‘The Inside Stuff by Zik,’ a regular column in the newspaper he edited in Accra, Ghana, put him in trouble. Colonial authorities in Ghana felt that through the ‘African Morning Post’ he preached radical nationalism and black pride. 

As founding editor of the paper, Zik promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda. Borrowing from under graduate and graduate studies in religion, philosophy, anthropology and political studies, Zik, a doctoral degree researcher in Columbia University as at 1934 when he left the United States in the early 1930 used the publication and his column to equally expouse the emancipation of African thoughts from the indoctrination of European religion.

As media historian, Yuri Smertin noted,” during Azikiwe’s stay in Accra, he advanced his New African philosophy later explored in his book,’ Renascent Africa.’ The philosophic ideal is a state where Africans would be divorced from ethnic affiliations and traditional authorities and transformed by five philosophical pillars: spiritual balance, social regeneration, economic determinism, mental emancipation and risorgimento nationalism.”

“Zik faced trial for sedition for the content of the article. He was sentenced to six-months  term which was upturned in appeal.

“He left Accra for Lagos in 1937. In Lagos, he set up his flagship newspaper, ‘The West African Pilot’ which begget other publications he established in other very politically vibrant major cities of Nigeria such as Calabar, Onitsha, Warri, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and others while still participating very actively in politics. 

“The robust worldview that he was known for as an editor, rubbed off vividly in his approach to politics when he returned to Nigeria. Zik’s aclaim for issue-based politics made him one of the political leaders whose approach lacked ethnic bias and crude ideologies. 

“The late Nigerian statesman aptly became known as the ‘Father of Nigerian nationalism’as he was considered a driving force behind the nation’s independence.

“As the father of our country’s nationalism, Zik, who spoke all the three major Nigerian languages, fluently, became a symbol of unity in the country. Arguably, no political leader of Nigeria, from first to current republic has rooted for Nigeria’s real sovereignty and economic  independence as Zik. Even when working for a united Nigeria put his person and reputation at risk. Zik remained a quitessential nationalist.

From colonial times when he dumped the NYCM for the reported discrimination against Ijebu-Yoruba candidates by the the party’s executive which was largely made up mainstream Yoruba people to the period of Nigeria’s civil war when he brokered peace, severally between the seceeding Biafra and Nigeria.

“Reading his books such as ‘My Odyssey,’ ‘Renascent Africa’ among others, one encounters a ‘Philosopher King’ who Nigeria should do a lot more to preserve his name and legacies because of the immense treasure his veneration, if idolisation, would yeild in the minds of the now generation who seem indifferent about the values in keeping the nation, ‘one’.”

Beyond his political feat, intellectual steep and social sagacity, Zik is great for his foresight and rare ability to prove that his concepts are clearly achievable notwithstanding the unpredictability of politics.

He was one of the very few leaders of immediate post-colonial Africa who touted and championed pro-technology development and pro-professionalism workforce for the continent. He practically demonstrated it by establishing the indigenous bank, African Continental Bank, ACB (now defunct); the University of Nigeria, Nsukka , UNN, for grooming of professionals; farm settlements; comparative advantage agriculture for export and institutional prioritisation in development.

He emphasised functional education and proved that without active play in the mass media, political leaders and governments only make effective governance or social mobilisation vain toil. He equally made an empire of his international media business against odds while he still used it very well for political goals.

The fact that, years later, leaders of the Asian Tiger countries used most of these his concept of pro-tech economic development template to lift their nations out of poverty and ‘third world’ economy status shows what Nigeria would have become, had  Zik ruled the country.

As at the 1960s, modern leader of Africa held such a vivid mental picture of how Africa could rise out of doldrums as his mentee, the late Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, the founding leader of Ghana whom his country still venerate.

Added to Zik’s sound mind, was his outstanding personality. He was such a dignified and deified leader that even in death he still wields huge influence. Beholding the great Zik in a campaign rally given his oratory, candour, screen-hunk-style-demeanour and charisma detonated a lot of emotional currents on both followers and his contemporaries.  Zik was an outstanding leader in a historic sense. Hence, in the South East of Nigeria, he is still adored.    

Commemorating Zik’s Day on Saturday establishes ndi Anambra and Ndigbo’s veneration of him. 

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