By Emeka Obasi
Renowned author and Political Scientist, Professor Okwudiba Nnoli, is very much around and bubbling with life at 81. As an icon at the University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania where he taught in the 1970s, many students who graced his lectures still hold the Nigerian in high esteem. One of them, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, moved from campus to the bush and by 1986 emerged as President of Uganda.
I wrote about this in my column last Saturday and due to circumstances that have continued to torment me, Prof. Nnoli was referred to as ‘now late’. I have heard of printer’s devil. Typo error is also common place. This one hit me hard. By the time I realized the monumental mistake I found it difficult to exist as a complete being. A piece that was meant to eulogize him ended up causing the scholar severe pain.
More painful to me is that Prof. Nnoli is a distinguished old boy of Government Secondary School, Owerri, [OGSSIAN] my Alma Mater. Another Old Boy, Mazi Nnamdi Nwigwe drew my attention to the error. It was something I could not explain. I put a call across to the professor. I did not know what to say. At that point I was ready to even take a bullet from him. He was calm and asked that the error should be corrected in good time.
Nnoli is World Class, that is the best way to introduce him. By 1967, when the Civil War broke out, he came out from Stanford University with a degree in Political Science. That gave him a job as lecturer in the same university. Nnoli later moved to University of Chicago as Assistant Professor.
From the United States, he flew to Tanzania at the end of the war. The University of Dar Es Salaam [UDSM] was unique because it was conducive for revolutionary intellectual pursuit and attracted liberation strategists from all over the globe. The main campus was dubbed ‘Mlimani’, Swahili for on the hill but the bigger attraction was Tanzanian president, Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
Nyerere, better known as Mwalimu [teacher] did not have to deliver papers at UDSM. He had enough radicals doing things that fitted into his broad perspective of Ujamaa [Familyhood] and Socialism. One of them was Okwudiba Nnoli. A voracious reader and writer, attending Nnoil’s Political Science class was as energizing as a glass of chilled beer. Some of his students began to see Africa from a different perspective.
While Nnoli held the campus spell bound with his theories, another Nigerian, Claude Ake, was doing his thing in Political Economy. My piece last Saturday was actually going to add now late to Ake only for the Nnoli blunder to come up. Compatriot, Professor Theodore Okeahialam, was also visible in the Medical School having relocated from Gabon.
Okwudiba Nnoli found a friend and brother in Dr. Walter Rodney, the famous Historian from Guyana. Dar Es Salaam had become the centre of African Renaissance. Freedom fighters found home in Tanzania. It was under that animated environment that Rodney penned his best seller, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’.
Among those that lived in Tanzania were powerful guerilla fighters who later rose to lead different African nations after the struggle. There were Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Sam Nujoma of Namibia and his successor, Hifikepuye Pohamba. The current president of Namibia, Hage Geingob, escaped death by a whisker simply because he was flying to Dar Es Salaam.
South African Secret Service planted a bomb on his flight, chartered by the African National Congress [ANC]. The aircraft was billed to depart from Botswana. While it was at the tarmac, the bomb went off. That was faster than the plotters who wanted the explosion to happen after take -off.
At the time Museveni was taking final notes in Nnoli’s class, John Garang, who would later die as the First Vice President of Sudan had also arrived UDSM to study. So the University has also produced Presidents. Laurent Kabila of Congo DRC was an alumnus. The current President of Tanzania, John Magufuli, former president Jakaya Kikwete and ex-prime minister, Mizengo Pinda are also alumni.
In 1974,Okwudiba Nnoli was called upon by the International Studies Association Convention, St. Louis , Missouri to deliver a lecture on ‘The Basis For Realism in African Foreign Policy’. The man was hot cake and the brain was hot. From Germany to France to Uganda, his works sold him all over the world. At the end he was homeward bound.
At the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where he retired as a professor, fresh Political Science students knew that they needed three important books for ‘Introduction to Political Science 101’, handled by Nnoli. The books : Franz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched Earth’, ‘Walter Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ and Okwudiba Nnoli’s ‘Ethnic Politics in Nigeria’ were like Students’ Companion.
Okwudiba Nnoli has authored over 60 works. They include ‘Path to Nigerian Development’, ‘Self Reliance and Foreign Policy in Tanzania : The Dynamics of the Diplomacy of a New State, 1961-1971’ , ‘Ethnic Politics In Africa’ and Ethnic Conflicts in Africa’.
One of his students at the University of Nigeria, Chief Emma Okocha, Ikemba Ahaba, remembers Nnoli and his friend, Ray Ofoegbu, as down to earth lecturers on campus who did not believe in capitalism. One of them could be seen riding bicycle to the lecture room. Ofoegbu, from Uzoagba is best remembered as the young man who served as Gen. Philip Effiong’s Aide de camp in Biafra and Dee Sam Mbakwe’s commissioner for Information in Imo State.
Nnoli’s name still rings a bell in Tanzania. Journalist and author, Godfrey Nwakikagile, mentioned him in one of the latter’s books. The writer was talking about the great names that lived in or visited UDSM. American activists like Angela Davies, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson were there as well as Malcolm X. Ghanaian, Ayi Kwei Armah, author of ‘The Beautiful Ones are not yet born’, and Ngugi Wathiong’o of Kenya, the man who wrote ‘Weep not Child’ belonged too.
Nyerere loved Nigeria right from his days at Edinburgh University. When Tanganyikan troops mutinied in 1964, soldiers of the Nigeria Army Third Battalion, commanded by Col. Sam Ademulegun landed in the country. They spent six months to restore peace after British soldiers were withdrawn. Former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa was made Ambassador to Nigeria by Nyerere.
When Col. Emeka Ojukwu declared Biafra in 1967, the first country that granted the new nation recognition was Tanzania. It was from Biafra that Garang was airlifted to Dar Es Salaam by Capt. Andrew Nwankwo. Nyerere knew Nwankwo as a member of his presidential fleet in 1965 shortly after he passed out from the Haile Selassie Military Academy Harar.