By Obi Nwakanma,Vanguard Newspapers
On February 28, I was a guest speaker at the Anambra State Association Black History month symposium on Nnamdi Azikiwe in Dallas. It was an apt and proper celebration of the life of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a true giant of the 20th century.
In choosing to celebrate Azikiwe’s contribution, it struck me that the leadership of the Anambra state Association in the Dallas/Forth Worth area had a fine sense of history. This much I told Nnaerika Okonkwo, nuclear reactor inspector – whose father, the legendary Okonkwo Kano, was a formidable Zikist himself.
They brought together Dr. Chudi Uwazurike of the City University of New York, Dr. Assensoh of Indiana University, the Houston based publisher of the USAfrica on-line newspaper, Chido Nwangwu, Mrs. Oyibo Odinamadu and I, to reflect on the value of Zikist history and on Zikism. Azikiwe was a man who played on the world stage.
In the emergence of radical black internationalism in the 20th century he will be regarded alongside WEB Dubois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, CLR James, and the younger Kwame Nkrumah who followed Zik, as the leaders of the black world in that century who gave the push for the emancipation of the black peoples of the world from the abjection of history.
The fruits and vision of their struggle, with that movement that began in the 18th century with Olaudah Equiano and in the 19th century by Edward Blyden, have started to ripen and crystallize in the emergence of Mr. Barrack Obama in the White House.
But while it does seem that everywhere else progress is being made, the changes towards the emergence of new terms of relationship with Africa and the black world seems to be hampered by a clayfooted Nigeria. Nigeria has been called a crippled giant and is increasingly dismissed as irrelevant.
Nigeria was once “the great black hope,” but today, listening to diasporic Africans and other people in the world, it is clear that this once bright hope has been reduced to a laughing stock: Nigeria is like the idiot king, “Temugedege” in J.P. Clark’s classic play, Oziddi: self-regarding, but incapable of a singular redemptive act worthy to memory. Why did the light depart from this nation?
A full reading of Nigeria’s history ought to properly situate the Nigerian crisis of nationhood, and thus place squarely on the genealogy of events, where, as the novelist Achebe would say, the rain began to beat us. It would also, hopefully, provide some exemplary direction towards a new movement that should free Nigerians from the current situation of internal colonialism.
That, indeed, is the state of affairs: the contemporary crisis of nation in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular is the result of an arrangement that has basically substituted one form of colonialism with another.
It has also reduced the meaning of nation. Where Nnamdi Azikiwe and his group conceived of the nation as transcendent, those who opposed him, with the active and subversive support of Great Britain, saw a more narrow meaning of nation.
We must be clear on this, especially in the light of the various revisionist rhetoric that has started to forcefully emerge from certain quarters, which tends to obscure the truth for a new generation of Nigerians, in whose interest it is to know the truth and be freed by it.
For instance, the recent celebration of the centenary of Obafemi Awolowo obscures the fact, in the bid to make him a “nationalist” of the Nigerian mould, that Awo was not part of the anti-colonial nationalist movement.
He was a student in London and a member of the British Labour Party in the crucial period, and he was inseminated suddenly into the nationalist discourse at the very intriguing moment between 1948 and 1951, when the negotiations on the form decolonization would take began after the argument had been won by the nationalists, circa 1945.
In a bid to create politically correct narrative of nation, even newspapers now declare the Sarduana of Sokoto a “Nigerian statesman and nationalist.” He was not. The Sarduana was on record to oppose Nigerian Independence and had no sense of Nigeria as organic and transcendent. Contemporary Nigerian history is based on such utterly laughable revisionisms.
Far little is said now about the Zikists – those who led the agitation for a free nation: Adegoke Adelabu, Saad Zungur, Raji Abdalla, Mbonu Ojike, Aminu Kano, Nwafor Orizu, Olu Akinfosile, Michael Imoudu, Denis Osadebe, Ozuomba Mbadiwe, Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Adeniran Ogunsaya, Eyo Ita – and so many more, who led the agitation for the postcolonial nation, but did not come to power to translate their dreams.
They rallied under the banner of Zikism and gave the British colonialists hell. But it is this attempt to elide the truth of Nigerian history and create great fictions and great fictional heroes out of it that has made it impossible to tar the real anti-heroes with the brush they deserve.
Not all who have come to the national stage and to national prominence deserve the plaudits we now endow on even some of the most criminal elements that have forced their ways unto Nigeria’s national political leadership, ruined the nation, and furthered the course of domestic colonization.
It is imperative for a new generation therefore to actively seek an unveiling of this history. It is also in the interest of this new generation to renew the Zikist movement and its compact to constitute the Nigerian nation and to rescue it from the bondage of ages.
The current situation in Nigeria is clearly the result of the defeat of Azikiwe and his group in the postcolonial period, starting from the crucial phase of negotiations leading towards independence in the 1950s. Kenneth W.J. Post and George Jenkin’s book on Adegoke Adelabu, The Price of Liberty (CUP, 1973) gives a crucial detail of some of the shenanigans at the London Conference in 1957 with the colonial secretary, Lenox-Boyd.
Those who opposed the Zikist vision of Nigeria triumphed, forced the nation towards its current direction, and subverted the dream so central in the agitation for freedom which the leadership of the anti-colonial Independence movement in Nigeria saw as sine qua non to freedom.
It is clear that Nnamdi Azikiwe’s return from the United States in 1935 introduced a systematic agitation in West Africa that rattled the British and the colonial office.
Prior to Azikiwe’s return much of what passed as engagement with the British was beggarly, accomodationist, and impotent. It basically sought elite guarantees; a bit more pork for the elite; parity in senior service positions.
It took Azikiwe to deploy a vast media network and new campaign strategies to mobilize the grassroots, connect with ordinary folk, disseminate an idea of new nation, create a popular movement that fully mobilized the energy of Nigeria for the first and possibly the last time.
This is the lesson that a new, visionary leadership must learn in order to awaken Nigerians from their current stupor. A new Zikist movement must re-engage Nigeria on the terms of Zikism, outlined in his great, catechismal book, Renascent Africa: Economic determinism, Political Freedom, Mental Freedom, and spiritual balance.