By Emeka Obasi
Nigerian history without Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo is like Lagos without a sea port or Onitsha without the River Niger Bridge. Both men had a lot in common, even when they departed it was in the same month of May.
Zik and Awo were clerks, teachers, journalists, leaders of opposition, regional ministers, premiers and politicians. The former dropped his colonial name Benjamin, the later put aside his Christian name Jeremiah.
As politicians they were great rivals. Dr. Azikiwe ended up as the First President of the country after serving as the last Governor–General. He also was the first indigenous President of the Senate.
Chief Awolowo was not so lucky, the Presidency eluded him. In 1979, the Supreme Court had to rely on technicalities and political mathematics to give a verdict that knocked out the sage who had earlier served as de facto Number Two man under General Yakubu Gowon between 1967 and 1971.
Zik was Owelle of Onitsha, Awo hailed from Ikenne and their children: Emeka and Tokunbo, ended up as Ambassadors to European countries.
Awo died on May 9, 1987 and in his tribute, Zik was quoted as saying: “Awo has beaten me to it.” That statement meant a lot. On November 3, 1989 , two years after Awo’s demise, the media reported the demise of the First Nigerian President. In fact, many top Igbo politicians like Dr. Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe [K.O.], Chief R.B.K. Okafor and Chief K.O.K.
Onyioha had sent their condolences.
Zik ridiculed his associates, the Owelle was neither dead nor ready to die. He said: “As a member of the journalism profession, I feel very sorry that that someone should defame another with impunity.” On November 16, 1989, Zik of Africa celebrated his 85th birthday.
Death came on May 11, 1996. That was nine years after his friendly rival, Chief Awolowo had joined the Saints Triumphant. And some of those who wept when Zik was supposed to have died in 1989 had departed this sinful world.
That Zik and Awo died in May is instructive. There is something about May since the return of Democracy in the Fourth Republic. All our Presidents: Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Ya’radua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari were sworn in, in May.
Yaradua died on May 5, 2010 making him the second Nigerian President to die in May, after Zik. And due to Ya’radua’s death , Jonathan became President on May 5, 2010. And when he won election in 2011, he was sworn in, again, on May 29.
While we have had Presidents Azikiwe and Ya’radua go in May, another President, Chief Ernest Adekunle Shonekan was born in that month, May 6, I936. Unfortunate that the younger Ya’radua died just one day after the post humous birthday of his sibling , Shehu, who was once the Country’s Vice President equivalent.
May also recorded the passage of many prominent Nigerians. Some governors left us in that month. Alhaji Adamu Attah of Kwara State died on May 1, 2014. Wing
Commander Isah Mohammed of Gongola died on May 2, 2007; Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Muazu of Kaduna, May 5, 2008, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh of Enugu, May 5,2009 and Chief Michael Agbolade Otedola, May 5, 2014 . Col. John Dungs, same month.
Compol Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, of Benue –Plateau, faced firing squad on May 15, 1976. Another Plateau Governor, Col. Joshua Umaru Anaja, died on May 25, 1985.Col. Yohanna Madaki, Gongola, departed on May 21, 2006 while Brigadier Umaru Alhaji Mohammed , Sokoto, left on May 26, 1980. The Sao Tome bound aircraft plunged into the ocean at Escravos. A minister, Dr. Abubakar Usman also died. Mohammed had taken his friend, Brigadier Ibrahim Babangida’s place. IBB left for a course in the United States.
Some Service Chiefs also died in May. Brigadier Hilary Mbilitem Njoku, First Chief of Staff of the Biafra Army and one of those who saw General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi shortly before he was led away to
face execution in Olodo, near Ibadan, although with some bullets as evidence, died in May 2006.
John Nmadu Yisa Doko, Chief of Air Staff under General Murtala Mohammed[ the day Murtala died was his 34th birthday], pioneer Air Force cadet and first Nigerian Air Vice Marshal, died on May 2, 2012.
We also lost hard working Sports Minister Ishaya Mark Aku in a plane crash on May 4, 2002.
Prominent politicians like Clement Nyong Isong, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] during the Civil War and Governor of Cross River State in the Second Republic[ May 29, 2000] and Deputy Senate President John Wash Pam[May1, 2014] joined the fray.
Footballer, Aloysius Ikem Atuegbu, better known as Blockbuster, a man who never picked a red card in his long years of playing soccer, passed on, May 25, 2008. And that was a day after the demise of Ozzidi King, Sonny Okosun, the man who once saved Joromi exponent, Sir Victor Uwaifo, from electrocution.
Okosun was the second guitarist in Uwaifo’s band, Maestro and while the crowd enjoyed the Bini guitar boy, he was almost playing to death before his Esan brother noticed that the cord was in danger.
One other death that remains a puzzle took place in far away Kampala, Uganda. On May 25, 1968, Jonathan Banjo, a stenographer with the Nigerian delegation to the Peace Talks with Biafra, went missing.
Biafra and May go together. The world cannot forget Bruce Mayrock, the 20-year-old American student of Columbia University who set himself ablaze at the United Nations, on May 30, 1969. He was sad that the globe turned deaf as Biafran children were offered kwashiorkor as part of Nigeria’s weapons.
Mayrock ‘s birthday was 24 days earlier but he could not celebrate in the midst of hunger and starvation. His body lies in a grave at Mount Ararat Cemetery, New York.