By Emmanuel Obe
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
Nnamdi Azikiwe’s son, 73-year-old Chukwuma, tells Emmanuel Obe why no one in the family has stepped into the political shoes of his father and the myth surrounding Zik’s disappearance in the mid-40s.
Do you miss your father?
Of course, we miss our father very much. We wish he was around. Certain things happen and you wish you could discuss it with him or discuss it with people who could influence him. But life is finite and we all accept the will of God. We thank God for the life that my father lived.
Why is none of Zik’s children showing interest in politics?
The question is one that has agitated our minds. But there are many angles to the answer. There is the general feeling in the family that our father had contributed quite a lot to the development of African politics. He believed in building others to join the national struggle for independence as well. So we thought maybe, the Zik family should take a break and let others contribute their own quota to nation building.
We are also mindful of what people might be saying. Maybe someone would think that we are using our father’s image to make political statements. But personally, I believe that being a good follower of my father’s political ideology is also very important. In his days in politics, I was strongly involved in the background; I was going on errands when he was campaigning. I was making the necessary contacts while the show went on.
Apart from that, the Zik family is conscious of the unhealthy developments in the political landscape. Politics during the Zik era was designed for the independence of our country. The politicians of those days believed in rendering services to the country and improving the lives of the people. But we started seeing a situation where politics is now for self aggrandisement and for power acquisition. A lot of people now get involved in politics in an unhealthy way. But there are still a lot of good people too who join politics with the right spirit, to render service and help the nation and its people. Perhaps, you would agree with me that it was becoming a do-or-die affair and you really had to pause and study the situation before you get involved in that kind of politics.
If you abstain from politics for the reasons you have highlighted, will you consider taking up an appointment if offered?
Some people have quietly discussed the issue of taking up an appointment with me but I found out that despite the patriotic zeal of the people who approached me, there was a trap underneath the appointment.
After analysing the position and what was required of me, I realised that I would not be able to render service the way I would have loved to serve the country and that’s not what our family tradition stands for. However, some of the political actors are really building themselves up. Some of them try to use people to achieve their dreams without giving the people the opportunity to contribute. When you look at the whole situation, you will learn to be careful.
Is it true that your father possessed a vanishing power that made him disappear when the colonial authority was looking for him?
My father was God-fearing in a practical way. I didn’t know about his magic. Let me tell you a story and you can make deductions about the myth of Zik and magical powers. Around 1945 and 1946, there was an alleged plot by the colonial authorities to have Zik assassinated.
So he ran away. When he was going, he changed direction and instead of going to where he told his people, he ended up in a friend’s house at the corner of Benjamin Street by old market road in Onitsha, hiding at the basement of his friend’s house.
Sir Louis, Mbanefo and his nephews, Odigwe and Nwakibeya, were living in that house, taking food to Zik secretly. He was later smuggled to the forest of Nsukka by Sir Louis’ elder brother, Isaac, who was UAC police chief at the time. They got help from Chief Okuta of Iga in Nsukka, who was also in the police. Zik stayed in a house where Kelu Eze lived before he died. Okuta’s wife was preparing food for my father in the forest.
Meanwhile, the colonial government searched everywhere for him with no success. That was when the issue of magical powers came in. People said he changed to a fly and flew away to the forest.
But to the best of my knowledge, he was a good Christian and very courageous, he cared for others and opposed oppression and injustice.
Perhaps, the acute racism he witnessed, the discrimination of the colonial society and the racism he experienced at West Virginia, US, strengthened his belief against the colonial rule and push for independence of Africa.
Would you say the Nigerian government was fair to your father?
That is a question with many sides. The government has taken a decision to honour him by building a mausoleum. But the problem is its implementation. From the time of late President Umaru Yar’adua, the amount earmarked for the project was approved by the National Assembly. But the problem is the delay in the implementation of the project. The lawmakers and President Gooduck Jonathan will not come to Zik house to build the mausoleum and supervise the work. They have done their part.
You seem to cherish your privacy which is in contrast with the boisterous nature of your father. Is there any reason for this?
It is the way I regulate my life and my time. Actually, I learnt that from my father. My father always talked about it. He said Africans always kill their leaders by pestering them all the time. They don’t have time to rest. My father used to regulate his time. There were times when he wouldn’t want to see people except on appointment. He had a properly planned schedule when it came to meeting people and I imbibed that from him.
Although I am a busy man, I rest a lot and prefer delegating duties to my partners who are in Lagos. I have to be in many places but if you don’t organise your life, you will not achieve anything.
I see only the people I choose to meet because my house is out of the town and I don’t encourage people coming there to hang around and gossip.
Have the South-East governors immortalised Zik?
I agree with people who said Zik was a national leader and the Zik of Africa. The role I expect the governors to play is to urge the Federal Government to implement the mausoleum project. The South-East governors promised to do something for Zik around 2001 and 2002 but unfortunately, we are yet to see the result of their commitment.
The former Senate President, Pius Anyim, proposed the building of Zik Centre in Enugu. I think many people had their reservation at that time; they were sceptical. They wanted a prototype in Zungeru that was abandoned to be completed first.
But we all went to Enugu for the launch of the Zik Centre. The late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was there and virtually all the governors of the South-East were present. They donated N25m each. The actual amount needed was N2bn but some people told me that about N1.5bn was raised on that day.
But that was as far as the project went. C.C. Onoh, who was at the launch once told us that they were yet to get a suitable piece of land for the project, so we approached the then Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, who approved a piece of land for the project. But nothing has been done till date.
What was your father’s political philosophy?
As I mentioned earlier, service and sacrifice were the main elements of politics in those days. My father believed in democracy and freedom; actual democracy and not lip service democracy. And for that, he craved that democracy should be based on free and fair elections. And it is government of the people by the people and for the people. He was a strong believer in justice and equity.
How did Zik train his children?
We were very fortunate when we were growing up; we had a big backyard. Children from the neighbourhood would come to our house in Yaba, Lagos, to play football and other sports. My father taught us that our responsibility is to try and understand people, and judge them by the content of their character not by the appellation of their tribe or clan.
In fact, there were some people, who tried to quote my father’s statement out of context in a book and also in an article. They wanted to score cheap political points. He was not saying there are no differences. What he was saying was that we should concentrate on the things that hold us together and forget the ethnic differences.
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria today, we are having security challenges based on ethno-religious differences. Some of these things are based on larger societal ills and agents of international terrorism that have also managed to infiltrate our body politics.
Those who think they can manipulate our differences for their own ends are not being fair to Nigeria and also to the black race because Nigeria is a beacon of hope and succour for many black people.
Source: The Punch