By Nwachukwu Ngige
After driving through the road to hell that is Enugu- Onitsha Express Way, ( I better forget the inferno that tortures the soul between Obollo – 9th Mile) cursing myself for ever putting my personal car to the road from Abuja, my mood swung to delight, biting my lips, as I entered Onitsha and discovered that the long abandoned Zik’s Mausoleum has taken the shine off the nearby towering pinnacle of the All Hallows Seminary Church.
I saw a glowering edifice, glittering to the evening sun, already setting on the Niger, just five minutes’ drive away ! Unconsciously, I lipped back all the curses I have heaped and somehow muttered, “ Buhari has tried o! I had gone to Onitsha that first day of November to join fellow Old Boys, students and the parents to mark the feast of the All Hallows in Heaven! Immediately, I recalled a seminal speech from Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, then Governor of Anambra State, at the Zik’s third memorial anniversary on November 16, 1999.
Legend, foremost Pan-Africanist
Nigerians of all walks of life had gathered at the Inosi Onira Retreat of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, legend, foremost Pan-Africanist and Nigeria’s first President who died in 1996. A dilapidating, expansive compound, adjoined to the left by the All Hallows Seminary and to the rear and right by Onitsha Military Barrack, Zik’s home was bedecked by an abandoned foundation-level mausoleum, overtaken by the wild. There were speeches but Dr. Mbadinuju, a man of gaffe and glitch-free oratory, in his usual theatrics, mildly drew attention to the sorry sight that was Zik’s resting place. Odera as he was fondly called, spoke at length, ending his speech with a posing rhetor – is Zik actually resting in peace? Mbadinuju’s enquiry stemmed from the mockery, concomitant of the derelict compound of the Nigeria’s number one independence leader. I covered the beat for The Eastern Pilot, a local newspaper which I founded in 1995.
The same day, the opinion page of the Thisday Newspaper had a scintillating piece, written in the most sublime and flamboyant language by the inimitable Dr. Chuba William Wilberforce Okadigbo. Entitled “ If Zik were Here,” the illuminating opinion, laid along-side a silhouetted picture of Zik’s Inosi Onira Retreat, shadowed by over-grown weeds and grasses, was a catalogue of woes and teething national challenges. Okadigbo further discussed the ebbing fabric of the civil society destroyed by decades of military rule, its overhang , the contradicting ethos of democracy and development as well as ethnicity, nibbling the soul of the nation. He then sought for answers the Great Zik would have provided were he alive . He also summarized the abandoned Zik’s mausoleum as the ugliest trajectory in national reward system, taking the Obasanjo Federal Executive to task.
I occasionally look back to days when as a young reporter in Onitsha in 1996, we formed a group, christened The Zik’s Renaissance Movement led by a foremost young school teacher and civil activist, Emeka Eleke, with myself as the spokesman . Our mission was to promote the vision and legacy of Dr. Azikiwe by establishing a voluntary awareness group to propagate his ideals in the young, starting with all secondary schools in Anambra State. In our first meeting with Zik’s half-brother and intimate , Chief Onuorah Azikiwe at his office located inside the famous Achike House, Oguta Road Onitsha, he took us on a journey into the personal life of one of the Africa’s greatest sons. Achike House strikes a vital cord in my childhood memory. An imposing complex, story we had as secondary school students was that it was to serve as one of the campuses of the Anambra State University but Governor Jim Nwobodo changed his mind, citing the boisterous nature of Onitsha as unconducive for learning.
Onuorah buoyed our bustling spirits at the peak of his narrative when he declared to us that “ Nnamdi bu mmuo,”- Zik is a spirit ! He afterwards gave us books which included Zik’s collection of poems, My Ode to Onitsha Ado n’Idu, The Renascent Africa, Azikiwe and the African Revolution by Ikejiani and Ikejiani and one other pamphlet whose title I have forgotten, to read and broaden our resource base for the work we voluntarily chose. When we further asked about the abandoned mausoleum which the then PTF promised would be completed in record time, he almost suppressed our vigour by telling us that “sprits don’t live in a grave. Zik is a spirit.” But immediately, he revived our waning spirits by assuring us that “ generations will come and behold the resting place of this son of Africa, who showed the light to liberate those groping in darkness.” Though our mission did not last beyond 1999 as most of us later relocated outside the state in search of better life, I feel fulfilled often that I did my little in propagating Zikism.
Neglect by successive administrations
But the Zik’s mausoleum remained an eyesore for twenty-two years as successive administrations played wicked politics, some say, draining pipe. I also recall a visit to late Chuma Azikiwe on November 20, 2013 at Inosi Onira and his lamentations on the abandonment of his father. He later gave me an autographed copy of the Zik’s first memorial lecture, delivered by the erudite Prof. Allegoa. Since 2008, I have been writing opinion articles in national dailies as well as news commentary on the FRCN every November 16 in remembrance of Zik. I stopped the news commentary when the FRCN management in a new rule, said all such must be paid for , even for the father of Nigeria! In November 16, 2011 for instance, my piece, “ Zik, the Footprint of a Legend,” published in national dailies, lampooned the PDP Federal Government for abandoning Zik’s mausoleum and turning the major highway traversing it from the Onitsha Bridge Head into a valley of death. I recall then as the PDP Head of Publicity, an officer who read my piece and asked if I wanted to lose my job.
A masterpiece of a road construction
In fairness , the administration of Goodluck Jonathan liaising with the Anambra State Government of Peter Obi between 2012 and 2013 did a masterpiece of a road construction from the Bridge Head to the Ogbunike Toll Gate, expanding the road, adding a flyover at a spur around Nkpor Spare Parts market, clearly marking out and beautifying the Zik’s roundabout, thus, retrieving the major Eastern artery from the gateway to hell it was. But apart from sparse efforts, the Mausoleum remained abandoned .
Today, President Buhari has completed it, resting on the one hand, the question posed by Dr. Mbadinuju in 1999; executed the task thrown at the then Federal Government by Chuba Okadigbo, assuaging the lamentations of Chuma Azikiwe and on the other hand, fulfilling the expectations of Onuorah and millions of us that Zik deserved a better resting place. An assignment Buhari started when he led the PTF twenty-two years ago, had forlornly waited for his presidency for completion.
It is unfortunate but certainly, the Owelle of Onitsha will now rest in peace. Buhari has through this, led well-meaning Nigerians to redefine in consummate perspective , the immortal words of Zik at Independence in 1960, that his stiffest earthly assignment was ended and his life’s major work done and his people, now free. He has led other Nigerians to say with every confidence; that the Zik of Africa will continue to rest in peace.