Nigeria has lost a prolific writer and a revolutionary political activist, in the death of the chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and former Vice Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NEDECO), Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo. Aged 77, Nwankwo died on February 1, 2020 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku Ozala, Enugu State.
Born in Ajalli in Anambra State on August 19, 1942, he rose from his humble beginnings to become one of Nigeria’s foremost authors, publishers, historians and political commentators. Nwankwo obtained his Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and a Master of Arts degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was also honoured with a D. Lit from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. His appetite for knowledge also saw him attend Summer schools at Howard University between 1963 and 1967. He worked briefly as a consultant for Gulf Oil. He returned to Nigeria at the beginning of the Nigerian Civil War and worked in the Propaganda Directorate of Biafra, where he edited a weekly Newsletter.
Nwankwo was a prolific and award-winning author, who was devoted to political activism. He would be remembered for his role in restoring the country to participatory democracy and for which cause he suffered untold hardships and personal deprivations. Most notably, he was convicted for sedition and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour and fined N50 for his publication: “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State.” He was later discharged on appeal and the trial judge and court registrar involved in the case were punished. In fact, the case has since become a “locus classicus” in Nigeria’s legal and judicial records and which eventually resulted in the quashing of sedition from the country’s Criminal Laws.
He was an active participant in the pro-democracy struggles that followed the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. He was the Vice Chairman of the apex pro-democracy group, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that was formed to fight the military and restore democracy to the country. Under NADECO, Nwankwo achieved a lot for the country. He was a delegate to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in London in 1997 and his performance there earned him many other invitations to many European capitals and US cities to speak on behalf of Nigerian masses. He was the only non-African-American out of the 23 persons chosen to sign the protest letter delivered to then President Bill Clinton on the travails of democracy in Nigeria.
It would have been too much to expect that a principled and tenacious opposition to the military aberration in the country would escape the punishment of the then military junta, Gen. Sani Abacha. It was no surprise therefore that Nwankwo would end up in captivity as he was arrested on June 3, 1998 and thrown into punitive detention. However, he was released four weeks later following the sudden demise of the maximum ruler.
As a politician, Nwankwo ran for Governor of old Anambra State in 1983 on the platform of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) which many critics believed was strange because the party was not popular in the South Eastern part of the country then. But for Nwankwo, winning the election at all costs could not have been his first consideration. He longed for a political party with ideology. During the protracted Ibrahim Babangida transition, he pitched his tent with the Liberal Convention (LC), but it was not registered as a political party. He also associated with the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), before teaming up with other progressives of the South-West and Middle Belt in the pro-democracy struggles that agitated against the annulment of the June 12 election. His Eastern Mandate Union worked with the Afenifere movement of the South-West and Movement for National Reformation (MNR) powered by the late nationalis, Anthony Enahoro, among other progressive groups.
In 1977, he co-founded Fourth Dimension Publishing Company with his brother. The publishing outfit was at a time the most prolific in sub-Saharan Africa. Since inception, it has published over 1,500 books, including Nwankwo’s over 27 titles. He co-authored a book, Biafra: The Making of a Nation. He wrote Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra and Nigeria: The Stolen Billions. He had to his credit numerous published articles.
We commiserate with his family, friends and the progressives for the great loss. May God grant him eternal rest.