From Obinna Odogwu, Awka
People from all walks of life recently converged on Ezete Garden in Ajalli community, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State for the funeral rites of the late literary icon and democrat, Dr Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo.
Nwankwo, a one-time leader and presidential candidate of the Peoples Mandate Party (PMP), died on February 1 this year. He was born on August 19, 1939.
Ikeogu, as he was fondly called, also ran for governor in his home state, Anambra, in 1983, though unsuccessfully. He was the Chancellor of Eastern Mandate Union – a human and environmental rights group.
Nwankwo’s biography shows that during the Babangida Transition Programme, his group, the Liberal Convention was not registered, so he opted not to join any of the military created parties – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).
He was a leading member of his unregistered People’s Progressive Party (PPP); an alliance comprising the Eastern Mandate Union, Afenifere, Movement for National Reformation and all progressive forces in the South and Middle Belt.
Dr Arthur Nwankwo was the National Vice-Chairman of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and one of the NADECO delegates to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in London in 1997.
Following his CMAG testimony, he was a guest of the United States Government at the White House and numerous U.S based international agencies. When prominent black leaders wrote to President Bill Clinton to support the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria and apply more pressure on Nigeria’s dictator, Arthur Nwankwo was the only Nigerian among 23 prominent Americans honoured to sign the letter as a result of his tenacious opposition to the military dictatorship. He was arrested and detained in June 1998 and was released two months later.
Educationally, Arthur Nwankwo had his primary and secondary school education in Nigeria before going to the United States for his graduate and postgraduate studies.
He held a Bachelor’s Degree in History and Political Science from Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia and obtained a Master of Arts (M.A) from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He held a D. Lit. (Honoris Causa) from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also attended summer schools at Howard University between 1963 and 1967.
Dr Arthur Nwankwo was a publisher, award winning author and Chairman of Fourth Dimension Publishing Company, the largest publishing company in sub-Saharan Africa at its heights with over 2, 000 titles.
He was a successful businessman whose “strong principles and ideology had kept him from being stained or tainted by successive unscrupulous military regimes in Nigeria.” He also authored over 23 books and numerous articles.
On the day of the funeral, a commendation service was held for him at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in the community. That was followed by the interment in his compound.
Some of the eminent figures who came to mourn him were the 2019 Vice-Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Peter Obi; former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka; former senator for Anambra Central, Chief Victor Umeh; former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo; Head of Publicity, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Abuja headquarters, Mr Andy Ezeani; Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof Humphrey Nwosu; Editor of Daily Sun, Mr Iheanacho Nwosu; Udenta O. Udenta, clergymen and several others.
Obi, who was also the former governor of the state, sympathised with the bereaved family, describing the late Arthur Nwankwo as a democrat who stood for Ndigbo and Nigeria while he was alive.
“Everybody knows who Ikeogu is. He was a man that lived for Igbo land, lived for the South East and lived for Nigeria. He was somebody that all of us would like to emulate for his commitment and struggle for his people and country”, Obi said.
The ex-minister, Chidoka, on his part, praised Arthur Nwankwo saying that the deceased created a platform for the Igbo to speak in Nigeria. He said that the story of the Nigeria/Biafra war would not have been told from the Igbo perspective without the Fourth Dimension Publishing Company.
“Arthur Nwankwo represents a very important milestone in Igbo history and Nigeria. First, without Arthur Nwankwo and Fourth Dimension, the Igbo wouldn’t have had a voice to tell the story of Biafra.
“Igbo lecturers at Nsukka would not have had a platform to publish to become professors. Prof Humphrey Nwosu made it clear that four of his books were published by Fourth Dimension. Over 1, 500 titles were published by it.
“Today, we talk about state creation. Many of the states in the South East and the South-South Nigeria would not have been created without the ingenious Ikeogu and Akpangbo who was then the Attorney-General.
“The 1995 constitution, the first one Abacha did that introduced zoning in Nigeria was printed by Fourth Dimension. Most of the proceedings of the conferences in Nigeria were printed by Fourth Dimension.
“So, we must underscore the significance of Arthur Nwankwo and the Fourth Dimension in controlling the narrative of the war and also giving the Igbo real sense of belonging in Nigeria.
“We must also talk about his role in Outlook newspapers; in giving a voice. If you look at the Fourth Dimension, their byline is African viewpoints. So, Arthur Nwankwo was not just an Igbo and Nigerian.
“But he wanted to create the Fourth Dimension. When you talk about the first world, the second world and third world which is where we are classified, Arthur came up with the idea of the Fourth Dimension which is the African viewpoint.
“So, I think that what has happened today is significant in that the burial of Arthur occurred at a time when Nigeria is questioning its own soul. And I want to say that today, we have buried Arthur Nwankwo but we have not buried his ideas. Luckily for us, his ideas are encapsulated in writing”, Chidoka stated.
Head of Publicity, INEC headquarters, Abuja, Mr Andy Ezeani, described late Nwankwo as a lover of justice who spent all his life fighting for fairness and equity.
“Arthur’s death is a big loss to Nigerians, especially the common people and all those who love justice and equity. He spent all his life fighting for justice and fairness in the Nigerian society. And he was such a good role model because he was very consistent all his life,” Ezeani said.
On his part, the ex-senator for Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, Chief Umeh, described the late Arthur as a man with an indomitable spirit who was committed to his visions and ideals as an Igbo man.
“I got to know him when I read his first book: Nigeria: the challenge of Biafra. Reading through that book, I was able to see through his mind. He was a man who stood for justice; not just for Igbo people but for everybody.
“He was somebody who believed that Nigeria must accord equal rights to all citizens of this country irrespective of where you come from. He lived for it; he stood for it. He was part of NADECO and fought many battles. And most importantly, nobody was able to compromise him”, Umeh stated.
Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof Humphrey Nwosu, eulogised the late Nwankwo whom he said went into politics to serve humanity.
Nwosu said: “My friend, colleague, age mate and town mate, Dr Arthur Aguncha Nwankwo; we grew up together. We studied the same discipline, Political Science, although he later also became a practising politician.
“He went into politics for service; not for money. And that’s why we celebrate him. Those who knew him knew that Arthur went into politics for service and not for money; to help the helpless. He ran an open house.”
Nwosu, who conducted the June 12, 1993 election, which Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) believably won but was annulled by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, said that Nwankwo, being a democrat, stood against the annulment.
“You know NADECO stood for the restoration of Abiola’s mandate which meant late Nwankwo supported the electoral reforms I carried out in the National Electoral Commission (NEC) from 1989 to 1993.
“We knew Abiola was the winner even though the election was annulled, not because of any fraud or anything because the then NRC had congratulated the SDP. It is not done in African politics.
“The then National Republican Convention had congratulated SDP and suddenly the military, for reasons best known to them, annulled the election. And I gave advice against it. Nigerians should know that I never supported the annulment.
“Arthur supported me right through, that Abiola should be the validly elected Nigeria’s president. Arthur Nwankwo stood behind me. NADECO stood behind me. He wanted the restoration of the election result”, Nwosu narrated.
Son of the deceased, Arthur Nwankwo Jnr, said that he would miss his father very much. “What I miss in my father is his courage, fearlessness, tenacity and his sense of humour. I miss his storytelling but I know he is going to be in a better place.”