If there is any title as MAVERICK of Nigeria politics it would go to none other than the great elder statesman Rt Hon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of blessed memory. A lot has been written about the nationalist struggles of this great Nigerian that resulted in Independence in 1960 as well as his tenure as ceremonial President in the First Republic. Much remains unwritten about his controversial participation in the failed Second Republic of which this writer was also a participant.
To many Nigerians, Zik was an enigma. Richly endowed by Deity with an array of talents, Zik could rightly be described as a man who came before his time. To us in Lagos, Zik was one of us. He spoke Yoruba Language fluently. He was brought up in Lagos. But Zik was born in Zungeru in Northern Nigeria and his Hausa was so fluent that you could rightly say Zik would sleep and snore in Hausa. And of course, he spoke his native Igbo. Zik was not only an orator, an actor but also a master of English Language. his account of his sojourn in the US given in his book “My Odyssey” remains unparalleled in the annals of Nigerian auto-biographic literature.
Zik left office of President for overseas medical treatment and handed over to the Vice President Dr Nwafor Orizu shortly before the January 15 1966 coup that brought Nigeria under three decades of Military Dictatorship. It is believed that Zik has fore-knowledge of the impending coup d’etat hence his travel overseas ostensibly for medical treatment. During these “years of locust” as the era of Military Dictatorship turned out to be, Zik spoke his mind fearlessly. But his views often co-incided with those of the Government of the day. For example, Zik opposed Military Rule and yearned with Nigerians for return to Democratic Rule yet he proposed for Nigeria in 1976 a theory of DIARCHY – a system of Government by a mix of Soldiers and Civilians. Zik was also a maverick in many other ways. During the civil war (1967-70) Zik drafted the Biafran National Anthem and undertook many foreign missions for Biafra yet at the end of the Civil War Zik emerged in the Federal Government Delegation that negotiated the end of the War. Zik was a Sociologist, Political Scientist, Journalist, Philosopher, Publisher, etc etc but he was also a “wigless lawyer” because he could argue a case today and tomorrow argue convincingly against the same case.
Zik had announced to Nigerians in 1976 that he was done with partisan Politics and would devote the rest of his life to the role of elder statesman. Important pronouncements on National issues were made at Murtala Muhammed Airport either on his way abroad or upon arrival home. Zik was a journalist’s delight because his pronouncements got front page report the following day. What I miss most was his seminal newspaper articles where he articulated his views in flawless English language. (In contrast, Nigeria is today blessed North, South East and West with highly educated “leaders” who cannot write even a single page in articulation of their views on anything.) In 1978 when the Murtala-Obasanjo transition program began, Zik joined no party, formed no party, mobilized nobody but sat quietly in his ONUIYI HAVEN home observing events. In contrast, Chief Obafemi Awolowo formed the Unity Party of Nigeria, campaigned all over Nigeria and sought votes for the Presidency. Ditto Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim a very wealthy Northern Kanuri Politician-turned-Businessman. His own party was the Nigeria Peoples Party. There was also National Party of Nigeria which was a co-alition of rich and prominent Nigerians. Late Alhaji Aminu Kano formed the radical Peoples Redemption Party having among its ranks the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Chinua Achebe and the age-less Mallam Abubakar Rimi.
A few months to the General Election there was dispute in the Ranks of Waziri’s NPP. The Party was split over the choice of Presidential Candidate. The founder, Alhaji Waziri pulled out his supporters and re-named a new Party “Great Nigeria Peoples Party” which adopted him as Presidential Candidate. The “rebels” had no candidate so they went to Onuiyi Haven to give the crown to Zik. Hence Zik’s popular saying that he was “drafted’ into the race. When confronted by journalists that this was against his earlier resolution to stay away from partisan politics Zik answered that he was exercising his constitutional right to change his mind. Vintage Zik! Zik also reminded Nigerians that his specialty in athletics was long distance and that he would deploy that physical strength and resilience to the game of politics.
The first hurdle thrown at him by Chief Ani’s National Electoral Commission was disqualification for non-payment of Income Tax. Zik had paid income tax on company shares he owned in Nigerian Companies but failed to pay income on other unearned investments including the famous Zik’s Flats at University of Nigeria Nsukka. Aminu Kano had also paid Six Naira Poll Tax claiming that he had no income. Both had to procure Court Orders declaring them compliant with the IncomeTax requirement.
By the time the Orders came, it was only about two months left to the election yet Zik assured Nigerians that he would defeat the other candidates who had formed Parties and had campaigned for over a year. But most importantly his most loyal disciples and the cream of Ndigbo elite had joined the strongest party at the time – the NPN. They had also invested in the party. For example Dr Alex Ekwueme had donated One Million Naira to the party and had been given the vice Presidential Slot.
Chief Ozumba Nbadiwe and others like C. C. Onoh had great difficulty accepting that their Hero, the great Zik was indeed in the race.
Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh had secured nomination as the NPN Gubernatorial Candidate. they could not turn back and follow Zik and his co-travellers which included Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya and M.A. Agbamuche. What they failed to reckon with was the power of tribal sentiment in Nigerian Politics. Since the Ndigbo had formed no Party, but had strong showing in NPN which gave them VP slot you would have thought there existed a dilemna. But no, Zik’s adoption of NPP simply changed the tide. Anambra State, which Dr Mbadiwe, Dr Ekwueme, Dr Okadigbo, Chief C.C. Onoh had promised to “deliver” to NPN simply voted en-masse for Zik’s NPP. A youngLagos-Based Businessman and popular football enthusiast relatively unknown in Igbo Political space Chief Jim Nwobodo was the beneficiary of Zik’s volta face because the Ndigbo simply believed they had to vote for Zik’s candidates. He had no political experience and had become popular as Manager of the Rangers Football Club, Champion Club of Nigerian Football at the time. Zik’s re-entry into partisan politics in 1979 could be likened to Late Chief M. K. O. Abiola’s entry into the 1993 Presidential Race that provoked his own Vice Presidential Candidate from whom he snatched the ticket to not only support the annulment of their election but to work relentlessly against the hand-over of power denying that his Party ever won the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election. Zik did not win the Presidency and could not have won, but he effectively prevented both the NPN and the UPN from getting Ndigbo Votes or penetrating the Igbo Political Space. He had also truncated the political career of the cream of Ndigbo including Chief C.C. Onoh. Nobody could have imagined that Zik would contest Presidency at 74!
The way a man handles defeat when the stakes are high could serve as an index for the assessment of his emotional maturity. What would a man of C.C.’s stature do in such circumstances? He had been a prominent lawyer for over a quarter of a century. He had been Mayor of Enugu the Capital City of the Republic of Biafra throughout the Civil War. He had represented his people at the Constituent Assembly (1977-78) wherein the 1979 Constitution was passed. He was also well known in other parts of Nigeria. He had the wealth, connection and popularity to make a successful Governor but Zik had (in Nigerian parla
nce) poured sand into his “gari”. Left as Onoh versus Nwobodo, the winner is known but this was Onoh versus Zik. Chief Onoh, in this difficult situation comported himself very well like a good sportsman. He accepted his defeat at an election he was poised to win and moved on.
(PART 2: RETURN MATCH – THE FINAL SHOWDOWN WITH ZIK AND THE TRAVAILS OF GOVERNOR ONOH OF ANAMBRA STATE)