Was he right on one Nigeria? What did he do for Ndigbo?
Did he sabotage Biafra? Why he dumped Awo for Balewa
Zik of Africa and Nigeria’s greatest political evangelist was the one that coined the slogan “One Nigeria”. It was his intention to replicate the great America in Nigeria since she has virtually all the elements that made America great as the most powerful country in the world, He wanted Nigeria to be the most celebrated country in Africa, at least. Remember, Zik had his degree education in the God’s own country.
Having ignited the fire of nationalism upon his return to the country in the late 1930s, Zik sought to cement unity among the nationalists to have a united front.
In 1945, during the Richards Constitution debate, Alhaji Ahmed Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto, had decided to withdraw from the Nigerian project, fearing that the south would always overshadow his people, the northerners. He therefore wanted to put to an end the idea of north being a part of the Nigerian journey to independence.
In 1979, Zik in an interview with the New Nigerian newspaper and which was reproduced by ELECTIONS 1979, a Daily Times publications edited by Dr William Graf, vividly recounted how he brought back the north into the Nigerian project by coining the anthem, One Nigeria. According to him, “In 1945, the Richards Constitution was promulgated. I opposed the division of Nigeria into three parts. I felt that regionalism was not in the interest of Nigeria and that it would lead to provincialism. It means that we began to think in terms of our region and not of one Nigeria.
“Then, I coined the concept of one Nigeria and the slogan ‘One Nigeria’. In 1953, the NPC under the leadership of my good friend, the late Sarduana threatened to secede from the federation unless their Eight -Point Proposals were adhered to. I had to use personal diplomacy to lure him back to the Nigerian project and he listened to me. We had been friends since 1940.
So, I saw Sir Ahmed Bello and prevailed upon him that the unity of this country was greater than him and me and the other people too helped so that the North shifted grounds and agreed and so the country was saved. That was in 1953”. (Page 162).
The import here was that both in 1945 and 1953, Zik played roles in stopping the North from exiting from the Nigeria project. If not Zik, perhaps, the North would have had a separate country and probably East and West would have followed suit and there would not have been anything like Nigeria as we have it. Today, the Igbo is at the receiving end of it. His intentions were of nationalistic implications, but they are now working against Igbo interests.
Also, when the 1954 constitution conference started, Zik noted the following: “My good friend, Chief Obafemi Awolowo tabled a motion to the effect that in the new constitution, provision should be made that any state which feels like seceding should do so.
I was opposed to it and said ‘no’ and said that once we have a federation, we are indivisible and perpetual. That was when we began to use that expression- the indivisibility and perpetuity of the federation – and that to secede would amount to treason”.
The above revealed that it was Zik that moved against the word secession from being inserted into the constitution. If he had allowed it as Awo wanted, Ojukwu would have succeeded in his 1967 Biafra agitation. And Nigeria would have long been dissolved.
Remarkably, Zik deployed his energy, resources, and time to leading Nigeria to independence. His group of newspapers made the colonial masters to shiver and quake. His non-compromising stand on freedom and independence was inspiring. His pragmatic view on national cohesion and integration was commendable even as, according to him, he survived 13 assassination attempts en route to independence.
Compromise is the art of
symbiotic living; hence the most
successful politicians are those
who compromise for the common
good whilst not sacrificing
In spite of the above significant and unparallel achievements, Zik was never elected the prime minister on the December 12, 1959 general election that ushered in independence on October 1, 1960. He was rather “assaulted” with the malignant position of governor general and later in 1963, the president. Why?
Do not be deceived by the half truth now dished out as “true history”. The fact remains that Zik’s NCNC actually won the election on December 12, 1959. This is the result of the election: NCNC got 2, 594, 577 with 81 seats in the parliament, representing 34 percent. Awo’s AG had 1, 992, 364, with 73 seats in the parliament, representing 26 percent. While Balewa’s NPC garnered 1, 922, 179 with 134 seats in the parliament, representing 25 percent of the vote cast.
Mind you, the exiting British colonial masters had conscientiously created more constituencies in the north than in the south. The British carefully made the north two and times bigger than the entire south. (Subsequent governments in Nigeria from Gowon in 1966 maintained this one-sided structure).
With the above outcome, the British authorities declared that the election was not won by any party and so there would an alignment. However, the authorities made it clear that the party with the highest number of seats in the parliament would prioduce the prime minister, not the one with the highest number of votes. It must be pointed out that Zik’s NCNC won votes across the country. Awo’s AG also did relatively well in picking skeletal votes across Nigeria but NPC that eventually produced the prime minister only had its votes in the north!
During the alignment, Zik shunned Awo for Balewa. He agreed to be the governor general and the minor partner in the coalition arrangement with NPC and rejected Awo’s offer of becoming the prime minister in the NCNC/ AG coalition. With that, Balewa emerged prime minister and Zik governor general and later in 1963, the president. The Great Zik justified his action by saying: “compromise is the art of symbiotic living; hence the most successful politicians are those who compromise for the common good whilst not sacrificing fundamental principles”.
Why Zik dumped Awo for Balewa in 1960
Here we shall delve into the forces that compelled the leader of the NCNC party does not go into coalition with Awo’s AG but rather headed northward to team up with Balewa’s NPC after the December 12, 1959 election.
Zik and Awo first clashed in 1941. Okwudibia Nnoli, in his book entitled ETHNIC POLITICS IN NIGERIA, explained how the Zik / Awo political misunderstanding came into being. According to him, in February 1941 Dr. K. A. Abayomi, a former president of Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM),
resigned his seat on the Governor’s Executive Council. Hence, there was a struggle for succession within the movement between then President Ernest Ikoli, and Samuel Akinsanya, the vice president. Zik, an Igbo supported Akinsanya, a Yoruba while Awo, a Yoruba threw his weight behind Ikoli, an Ijaw. As it turned out to be, Ikoli won. Zik and his Igbo tribesmen accused Awo and his supporters of bias and sabotage, and ultimately left NYM, Nigeria’s premier national political movement. Awo described Zik as a bad loser. This was the opening chapter of the Zik/ Awo political disagreement. Zik and Awo failed to settle the dust and it blew beyond boundaries.
Another factor at the root of this devastating miasma was the 1951 Western Nigeria Regional Assembly election. Zik went for that election on the platform of NCNC and his dream was to emerge as the Leader of Business of Western Region. Really, Zik’s NCNC won that election by winning more seats in the assembly but shortly before the inauguration, most NCNC members crossed over to AG and Zik was denied that electoral victory.
Achebe described that as unfortunate event, insisting that: He (Zik) contested and won the first general election to the Western House of Assembly. But Chief Awolowo ‘stole’ the government from him in broad daylight…The Trouble with Nigeria (Chapter 10). In the face of this intractable squabble, the dichotomy between Zik and Awo grew in leap and bounds.
So, Zik already had a double mind about Awo and so did Awo had about Zik, enroute to the December 12, 1959 election. The election produced no clear winner. The reason being that NCNC which won the majority of the votes with over two million votes had lesser seats in the parliament while the NPC with 148 seats majority in the parliament had just a million votes plus in the ballots. On the other hand, the AG which finished second in the popular votes with a million votes (higher than NPC) had 75 seats in the parliament.
Based on the foregoing, Awo approached Zik for an alliance. Mbazulike Amaechi explained in his book, The Politics of First Republic that Zik was almost going into alliance with Awo until when Sir Ahmed Bello confirmed to the former Eastern premier that the AG leader had also approached him for an alliance. On that basis, Zik, recollecting what he suffered in the hands of Awo in 1951 dumped him and embraced Bello’s NPC that had Sir Tafawa Balewa as its candidate, to form a coalition with NCNC as the junior partner. Hence, Zik emerged, first as the governor general and later in 1963 as the president, while Alhaji Tafawa Balewa became the prime minister.
However, the Awo followers countered Mbazulike’s claims. Odia Ofeimun insists that what propelled Zik to dump Awo for Bello/Balewa was simply anchored in selfish interests. He said in one of his numerous attacks against Zik and Ndigbo that the the Owelle of Onitsha knew there was few or limited manpower in the North compared to the West. Thus, according to Ofeimun, Zik went along with the North to secure political and administrative appointments for his Eastern brothers and he succeeded as the East later had the positions of the president, senate president, speaker of the federal house and other juicy ministerial portfolios.
That was how Zik embraced the north rather than the west even as unconfirmed report had it that Zik looked up to NPC because Bello threatened to pull north out of the Nigerian dream if Zik and Awo had a coalition understanding. Of course, Zik who dreamed about Nigeria being the giant of the black world did not want its demise and so he played along by shunning Awo.
Zik’s involvement in Ojukwu’s Biafra
To graphically understand the gulf that existed between the two men, it is imperative to quote verbatim and copiously, Ojukwu’s thought on Zik. “He was the indefatigable fighter of freedom and equality. To all intents and purposes, Zik inserted the word politics into my life’s dictionary. I respected, worshipped, considered him a hero, and saw him as a living legend.
“At independence, he cut a rather tragic figure. He was to me the symbol of a Nigeria that might have been but was not. He became the one Nigerian alongside whom every other Nigerian achievement, every other success, paled in comparison. He became governor general, the Queen’s official representative. He later became president – a ceremonial executive. He could not intervene to halt the iniquities (of First Republic), and from time to time, we saw him justifying and rationalizing actions we were sure conflicted with his better judgment.
“With bitterness, we began to learn that Zik, whom the British colonial administration could never incarcerate, had willingly constituted himself a prisoner of what appeared to us as northern interest. With many others, I began to feel let down. During the war, which to a certain extent was a war to free him, he rallied round to the Biafran side but later switched his support when it appeared the Biafran resistance would fail”. BECAUSE I AM INVOLVED, page 157.
During the war, which to a certain extent was a war to free him, Zik rallied round to the Biafran side but later switched his support when it appeared the Biafran resistance would fail”.
Some not well-informed Igbo people have continued the lies against Zik that he abandoned Ndigbo during the tragic days of Biafra. But, from Ojukwu’s account above, Zik was with Biafra from day one. Even Achebe confirmed Ojukwu’s claims on Zik’s support for Biafra. In his timeless book,
THERE WAS A COUNTRY, Achebe wrote “It is crucial to note that the decision of an entire people, the Igbo people, to leave Nigeria, did not come from Ojukwu alone but was informed by the desires of the people and mandated by a body that contained some of the most distinguished Nigerians in history: Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. M. I. Okpara, Sir Francis Ibiam, Sir Louis Mbanefo, Alvan Ikoku, K. O. Mbadiwe, N. U. Akpan, Joseph Echeruo etc. Page 91.
What really happened was that Zik later was convinced that Biafra would not win the war. He was very concerned about the millions of lives being destroyed on the Biafran side with its attendant malnutrition that turned the Biafran enclave as a ghost territory.
Looking at the devastation in Biafra and having used his closeness and contact with most African leaders of that time, to get recognition for Biafra, Zik knew it was better to call for a cease fire than continue in the bloody carnage. For your information, Zik’s name gave Biafra support from African countries like Gabon, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Equatorial Guinea.
The above account counters the allegation that Zik never did anything to rescue Ndigbo during the civil war years. What was on board as Biafra’s national anthem was an extract from Zik’s collection of poems. While Zik claimed that Ojukwu adopted it without his permission, Ojukwu revealed that Zik gave it to him. Zik was a great Igbo and a patriotic Nigerian.
Zik did nothing for Ndigbo: how true?
It’s not very conceivable how this notorious insinuation that Zik never did anything for Ndigbo came about. Even more disturbing is why it has been sustained, and now accepted by a good number of Ndigbo as true.
Politically, Zik’s noble achievements for Nigeria in general and Ndigbo in particular, may not be equaled by any politician again. In the First Republic, Zik’s towering greatness produced an Igbo as president (himself), senate president (Nwafor Orizu), Nwachuku (Speaker of HOR), and Aguiyi Ironsi was the head of the army. Zik mentored and inspired a generation of Igbo politicians, including Mbonu Ojike, M. I. Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, Mbadiwe, Raymond Njoku, Mbazulike Amaechi and many others.
It was Zik, as Eastern Premier that commenced the economic revolution that made
(1954 and 1964,) Eastern Nigeria to be described as “the fastest growing economy in the world,” by the Harvard Review; faster than China, faster than Singapore, and all the so-called “Asian Tigers.”
Obi Nwakamma, an American based professor stated in his Sunday column in the Vanguard that “all over the East there were quality schools built by the various communities using the Town Development Unions from 1954 (Zik was the premier at that time) and accessing the matching grants of the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. And this was the East with the poorest revenue resources of any of the regions.
The Mbaise Secondary School still exists, the National High School Okigwe exists, the Ngwa High School exists, the Enyiogugu Grammar School exists, etc. These were solid schools built all over the East with matching government grants (provided by Zik’s administration).
“The Catholic Church forced the Azikiwe government from its scholarship program, but it is also on record, that the Eastern government was the only government in the world that invested 45% of its revenues in education. The East had the highest number of schools; the highest school enrolment; the broadest penetration of medical services; and the best modern road network in West Africa.
“Indeed, if we look carefully, the only public hospitals and most of the schools still standing in the East today, at various stages of run down are the schools and hospitals built by Azikiwe/Okpara. Every division of the East had a Joint Hospital as part of the Eastern Medical services.
“First, the Eastern Outlook, the government paper of Eastern Nigeria was the first newspaper established by any government in Nigeria, and it was of such quality and impact that the literacy level of Easterners and the depth of public information retailed by Outlook were without compare. This is besides the fact that Western Nigerian Broadcast Services, WNBS-TV founded in 1958 only preceded the ENBC-TV founded in 1959, by only seven months. But Outlook preceded Sketch by about 15 years.
Now Azikiwe built the Onitsha Modern Market, the first modern mall or trade emporium in West Africa. Onitsha was effectively Dubai before Dubai. People travelled all over Africa, from as far as the Congo and Sudan and Egypt, to come and buy and trade in Onitsha. The economic impact of this was humongous.
Azikiwe built the first Nigerian University at Nsukka with the first School of Law, the first School of Engineering, the first Business School; the first School of Journalism, and the first School of Music and Performance, etc. By the time its first graduates took the Nigerian civil service exams in 1963, everybody began to raise the cry of “Igbo domination”.
“Azikiwe began the first modern library system in West Africa. The East had a system of city libraries starting with the very modern Zik’s Library in Enugu. I literally grew up in the Umuahia Divisional Library. These libraries were built all over the East. Schools in the East were built with libraries. Moreover, the Eastern Nigerian Library Board had a system of rural and mobile libraries.
There was nothing like it anywhere else in Nigeria: kids had library cards and able to borrow or order books from the public library.
“The great Ibadan historian, Tekena Tamuno, was unambiguous in stating once at NIPPS, Jos, that “the Igbos are the makers of modern Nigeria (and it was led by Zik). When they abandoned their project, Nigeria collapsed.” We must remind Nigerians, particularly Igbo children, daily of these facts, to achieve what Achebe called ” a balance of stories.” And that also means we must read beyond the surface of things. Dare Babarinsa’s Guardian essay is angled carefully to maintain a revisionist narrative. And that is to be always challenged, however innocent it might seem.
“Even today, most Yoruba think that Awolowo founded the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos. No one has reminded them that it took Azikiwe’s pressures for a university for Nigeria, in his meeting with Arthur Richards in 1946, that led to the constitution of the Eliot commission and subsequently the founding of the University College, Ibadan.
This fact is even clearly conveyed in Michael Crowder’s eponymous book, The Story of University of Nigeria, Nsukka was Azikiwe’s critique of what he felt to be the conceptual limitations of Ibadan.
The University of Lagos was the result of NCNC’s ideological contributions to the federal policy during the ill-fated coalition government with the NPC. UNILAG was an NCNC project, shepherded by Aja Wachukwu as minister for education. Even the great UNILAG in her 50th anniversary failed to mention Prof Eni Njoku as the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the university, a man that laid the solid foundation of what made UNILAG what it is today”.
Those who clap with one hand quickly forget that Zik put in place the financial giant called African Continental Bank, ABC. He brought Okpara as the premier to replace him and equally guided him in building Eastern Breweries that produced Golden Guinea, Adapalm that still serves as a huge revenue products to South East states, farmlands, ceramics industry, glass industry, cashew plantations, Nkalagu Cement Factory, constructed various kilometres of roads, including the Owerri – Mbaise – Obowo – Umuahia Road.
From all available records, Zik performed wonders for Ndigbo in particular and Nigeria in general.
Zik’s alleged connection in the South East, South -South dichotomy
I had written elsewhere that the South East and South South disunity is as old as Nigeria itself. It has been an old mark that has refused to go. It is now an ancient pathway to the stream – it can hardly be ignored, disregarded, or avoided. But it can be made better, brighter and more attractive.
Historically and politically, the animosity between the former two Eastern brothers is deep and well rooted. It first reared its ugly head in 1942 following the crisis that engulfed Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first genuine nationalistic organization.
The NYM president, Dr. Kofi Abayomi resigned his position for a political position and a struggle for succession ensued between Ernest Ikoli, the vice president, an Ijaw, and Samuel Akinsanya, another founding member, a Yoruba from Ogun State.
Zik and most Igbo in the association supported Akinsanya while Awo and most of his Yoruba followers threw their weight behind Ikoli. Eventually, Ikoli won. Rather than congratulating Ikoli, Zik and his Igbo tribesmen left the association en masse and NYM crashed almost immediately. What happened next was an accusation of bias by Ijaw people against Zik and Ndigbo. The Ijaw claimed Zik led Ndigbo in an attempt to stop their next-door neighbor while supporting a distant Yoruba man.
The fact of the matter really was that Zik and Ikoli were business enemies. Zik was having it all the way in the newspaper industry with his refreshing and well packaged West African Pilot prior to the arrival of Ikoli’s Daily Service. The Daily Service gave West African Pilot good fight.
Thus, Zik recognized the danger of supporting your business archrival in a political contest. It was that Zik was against an Ijaw man as it was later interpreted. However, the seed of discord had already been sowed between Igbo and Ijaw, by implication, South East and South – South.
Incidentally, the 1942 discomforting outing had hardly settled down when another political fart was cruelly released in 1951, thereby compounding the already estranged East and South relationship. That year, Zik, perhaps, in his conviction that he was indeed Zik of Africa and Nigeria’s greatest political evangelist, wanted to achieve a huge political fervour.
He dramatically and sensationally left the Eastern House, his home base, and raced down to Ibadan, the capital of Western Region, and contested for the position of head of government business on the platform of NCNC.
In a most remarkable political drama ever played out in Nigeria, Zik and his NCNC won the highest number of votes and seats. That victory was well documented as well as highly celebrated. However, it was never allowed to be. On the day of swearing in, Awo, invoking tribal sentiments rather than nation stability, got most of the Yoruba members in NCNC to move over to AG and Zik was denied that electoral victory.
You may not blame Awo because Nigeria’s politics is substantially denominated in tribe and tongue. In anger and frustration, Zik rushed to Enugu and caused the sack of Professor Etta Eyo, an Efik in today’s Cross River State, who was already in charge as head of government at the Eastern Region and installed Michael Okpara. It was that bad. Thus, the East, South relationship stained the more.
Almost within that period, the Eastern minorities comprising what is today Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states alleged that Okpara discriminated against them.
However, this was not true because, through the instigation of Zik Okpara appointed both Chief I. U. Akpabio commissioner of education and Chief S. E. Imoke commissioner of health in his cabinet and their children ultimately emerged as governors of Akwa Ibom (Godswill) and Cross River (Liyel) states several years after. If not the January 15, 1966 coup, Akpabio was said to have been pencilled down as a likely successor of Okpara as Eastern premier.
As Eastern premier, Zik developed an economic development master plan which Okpara inherited and subsequently executed. In the process, Okpara built the great Trans Amadi Avenue in Port Harcourt, constructed the imposing Presidential Hotel also in Port Harcourt, put in place the Adapalm plantation that still exists in Rivers, completed the Obudu Cattle Ranch which was modernized by former Governor Donald Duke. He started the construction of the Port Harcourt -Mbiama Road, the highway that links Rivers and Bayelsa states together today. The Michelin and Glass factories in Port Harcourt were established just as the Cement Factory in Calabar also came into being. So, the allegation of marginalization against the South South from Zik/ Opkara cannot be substantiated.
In fact, Zik mentored and inspired a galaxy of South South politicians and professionals, including Anthony Enahoro who later joined Awo, Okoi Arikpo, Emmanuel Endeley, Mathew Mbu, Akpabio, Imoke, Eyo Ita, E. O. Eyo. It must have to be pointed out here that most of these politicians later went against Zik.
For instance, it was Imoke in 1954, as a floor member, sponsored a motion in the Eastern House of Assembly calling for an inquiry to be set up to investigate Zik’s alleged involvement in bribery and corruption. In 1957, shortly after Eastern Region attained self government, E. O. Eyo, former in the Eastern House of Assembly, accused Zik investing government funds in ACB and so the Foster Sutton was set up.
Recall also that Eyo Ita also rebelled against Zik by championing the Zik Must Go campaign of that era.
It is on record that the three Igbo leaders of Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu never discriminated against the South South when they (Zik, Ironsi and Ojukwu) held sway as president, head of state or Eastern governor/ head of state of Biafra. For instance, under Zik, Mathew Mbu was a minister/ambassador. Ironsi made Kurubo a service chief while Ojukwu had Philip Effiong as his second -in – command. Even, the man who suggested the name Biafra to Ojukwu was a Bayelsa man who later took a high chief title.
During the Second Republic, Ndigbo were really disappointed that the two states of Rivers and Cross River were won and controlled by the NPN rather than NPP, the Zik party that had Igbo inclination. Ndigbo were also shocked to hear that of all the places in Nigeria it was in Port Harcourt their properties were declared abandoned.
However, Ndigbo showed maturity and supported President Jonathan, an Ijaw from South South. Ndigbo are now expecting the South South to reciprocate this gesture in 2023