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Biafra and the great Zik of Africa

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RUGA, IPOB
A protester brandishes a banner 

By Tony Eluemunor

Actually, no matter whatever Zik did or did not do in Biafra, he had achieved immortality before the civil war started. Is it Zik the intellectual? Or the father of Nigerian nationalism? Or Zik the Pan-Africanist? His place in history was quite secured, as though with a lock and key and backed with a harness.

This is a reaction to Mr. Soji Akinrinade’s article published in the Sunday Independent of January 26, 2020: “Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Nigerian Civil War.” Yet, Mr. Akinrinade, made no impeachable assertions, because, to be fair to him, he reached no personal judgment or conclusion on Zik’s support for Biafra, why Zik dumped Biafra in the heat of the war and appeared in Lagos. Mr. Akinrinade simply recounted the trouble in placing Zik’s role(s) in Biafra.

That is the only reason for this reaction to the article by Mr. Akinrinade, who was not just an Editor at Newswatch magazine in 1986, when Dele Giwa invited me into the outfit (I came there to visit Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam) but was the bridge between the big four (Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Muhammed) and the newsroom. I was just a Researcher-Reporter rookie there.

Mr. Akinrinade’s article ended thus: “Such double-talk was the hall-mark of Zik’s political career which spanned scores of years until he died on May 11, 1996 at the age of 92. It also made him the greatest political chess player in Nigeria. However, this led to the erosion of his support both among the Igbo and other Nigerians.”

As Julius Caesar  surveyed a battle field strewn with some 6,000 Roman soldiers at sunset and saw the bodies of the dead senators, he must have shaken his head before he remarked: “Well, they would have it thus.” This was the end of the Roman republic and the beginning of Caesar’s autocracy. Hey, who remembers the first person to have said: “I came, I saw, I conquered”? Or that the Rubicon is a real river which Caesar crossed against the rule that no Roman General should cross it into Rome with his legions?  That act of his was, to all intents and purposes, a declaration of war. He crossed that river and must have whispered to steel his iron resolve, “the die is cast” before marching on Rome to become…Caesar or Tsar (as in the Tsar of Russia), or Sha (as in Sha of Iran) or Caesar the god as the all Roman Emperors were known from Julius Caesar’s successor, Augustus;  Caesar —deified!

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Like Caesar who authored several book books (he wrote about himself in the third person, according to the literary style of his day) Zik was also a writer who left numerous volumes behind. Like Caesar who could bend his body to his will, marching all night just so that he could give battle at dawn, Zik had incomparable physical competence; he was exceptionally great in almost any sports—from boxing, prints, long distance racing such as the mile, he was a boxer, was good in both British and American football, etc. He was not just a good athlete, he earned money by contesting in sports events to help fund his higher Education in the USA.

Akinrinade wrote that many have accused Zik of having been fore-warned about the Nzeogwu coup of January 1966, but that Zik said he travelled out of the country, on leave. The few insiders who have written about that coup have all agreed that the dates kept changing as events unfolded and that it was initially planned for 1965. Some have even said it took place on the 15th January to forestall the one planned by senior officers for 17th January. If the dates kept changing, Zik would not have been sure of the exact date because the coupists had no long view of the D-day. It is also instructive that Zik never warned any of his beloved lieutenants such as Adeniran Ogunsanya and Mbazuluike Amaechi. So, that allegation is baseless.

Was Zik’s poem, “MY Ode To Onitsha Ado N’Idu, the land of the Rising Son” recast as Biafra’s national anthem? All it would take to determine that is just to read the poem, but I couldn’t find it online. Yet, it would be expected that Zik would have supported Biafra’s secession efforts most unwillingly. Zik was not only a Nigerian nationalist but was a Pan-Africanist to the core. In fact Biafrans did not choose Biafra. One thing simply led to the other. Zik wrote Britain to allow him represent Nigeria in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. He did not seek to represent Britain!

In 1962, he delivered a lecture: “The Future of Pan-Africanism,” where he said: “I think that Pan-Africanism should be concretized either in the form of regional States or one continental State, whichever is feasible, allowing this to be done voluntarily without upsetting the total sovereignty of the States concerned. If this barrier is hurdled, I suggest that the African States concerned should sign and ratify conventions, among others which I shall dilate upon, guaranteeing fundamental human rights among their citizens, social security among their workers, and collective security among their populations.”

He added: “In conclusion, it is my firm belief that an African leviathan must emerge ultimately: it may be in the form of an association of African States or in the form of a concert of African States; but my main point is that so long as the form of government is clearly understood and an efficient machinery for organization and administration is devised, backed by multi-lateral conventions which would enhance the standard of living of Africans, safeguard their existence by collective security and guarantee to them freedom under the law in addition to the fundamental human rights, the dream of Pan-Africanism is destined to come true.”

So, Zik was a reluctant rebel, the Nigerian and Pan Africanist whom the pogrom and the declaration of war itself, turned into a Biafran. Zik the pacifist searched strenuously for peace. So, why did he dump Biafra? The late Ambassador Raph Uwechue, recounted in “Reflections On The Nigerian Civil War”:  “General Ojukwu rejected advice, time and again, on the need for timely compromise. When the war began to drag on and the suffering of the masses increased steadily, a number of prominent Ibos began to advise General Ojukwu to ask for a confederal arrangement.

Which while it kept Biafra within Nigeria, would nevertheless leave her room for adequate local economy. The climax came on the 7th of September 1968, just before the OAU summit meeting in Algiers. A number of anxious Ibos including Dr. Azikiwe, Dr. Michael Okpara, Dr. Kenneth Dike and myself, made a formal recommendation in which we told General Ojukwu that as Africa was sympathetic to the Ibo cause, but opposed to secession, he should grant us the opportunity of the Algiers meeting to seek OAU guarantees for a confederal arrangement such as was agreed at Aburi (Ghana). Ojukwu not only rejected this advice outright but asked some of us to recant or resign. Dr. Azikiwe left Paris in disgust and went to London in voluntary exile. I myself chose to resign.”  Zik would have shaken his head and declaimed: “They would have it thus.”

That brings us to Zik’s appearance in Lagos. Again, to understand the heroic welcome Zik received, in Lagos in 1969 as the war still raged, we need an insight into Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s mind-set. Uwechue wrote: “In contrast with the unrealism of Biafran leaders, General Gowon clearly appeared to have grasped the crucial importance of African support”. Africa’s fear was the massive propaganda Biafra had sustained about the genocide that would follow Biafra’s capitulation. Then a plane that Zik was in,on his way to Liberia, made a stopover in Lagos.

The security agents reported to Gowon that Zik was in the plane and he ordered that Zik be brought to Dodan Barracks with all the respect due to a former Nigerian President. It was global news. That left Biafra standing on feeble legs because a ranking Igbo had been seen in Lagos and what he received was an embrace!

Vanguard

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