The Zik Mausoleum, started 23 years ago, has been inaugurated at last. The gigantic project, situated in the heart of Onitsha, the Anambra State commercial nerve centre and the resting place of the Great Zik, is in memory of the doyen, political juggernaut and giant of Africa, the late Chief (Dr.) Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, GCFR, Owelle of Onitsha. It was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, January 24.
The two-storey Zik Mausoleum, with provisions for two conference halls, museum, archive, video, research, library and documents centre, was started by the Federal Government in 1997 during the late General Sani Abacha regime. Azikiwe, a foremost Nigerian nationalist, died on May 11, 1996, and was buried at the Inosi Onira, Onitsha, now Zik’s Mausoleum. He was 92 years old. For many years, the mausoleum was abandoned and it was overrun by weeds and rodents. However, it took the Buhari administration less than three years to complete the about N1.5 billion project.
The speedy execution and completion of the project by the President Buhari administration is commendable. Regardless of political affiliations, the President deserves applause. In the same vein, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State deserves commendation.
Apart from his repeated inspection visits to the site and continuous appeals to the federal government, realists are of the opinion that the cordial relationship between the Obiano administration and the federal government is the magic fillip that brought about the completion and subsequent inauguration, which would provide jobs for our teeming youth.
Obiano has repeatedly emphasised that the legacy of Zik of Africa needs to be sustained to promote patriotism, peace and unity in Nigeria, as well as the spirit of genuine service to humanity.
The Anambra State government has asked the President to declare November 16, Zik’s birthday, a national day, just as the United States has done to its heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., who fought racism in all its ramifications in the 1960s. The governor even revealed that Anambra would soon start to observe November 16 of every year as a work-free day in the state to commemorate the birthday of Zik.
Zik, as the greatest detribalised leader among his contemporaries, deserves even more than that. Zik remains the greatest Nigerian who has lived in the last few centuries; a Nigerian who inspired the likes of former Ghanaian President, Kwame Nkrumah, whom he supported to go to the United States to study in order to have a better understanding of the black and African condition. African nations like Ghana and Tanzania have long honoured their pan-Africanist leaders like Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.
Ghanaians celebrate the Founder’s Day on September 14 in honour of Nkrumah’s birthday, while Tanzanians mark Nyerere Day on October 4, in commemoration of his death. It is, therefore, odd for Nigeria to continue to fail to honour Azikiwe on an appropriate scale. This will continue to prick our individual and collective consciences, until the right thing is done.
Zik also inspired such Nigerian nationalists as Chief Obafemi Awolowo with his intelligence, eloquence and public oratorical skills as well as literary gift. Chief Awolowo felt so challenged that he had to go to England to study Law, even as a married man. In appreciation of Zik’s profound influence on him, Awo, also known as the Sage among his admirers, established his Tribune newspapers on Zik’s birthday, as Awo himself revealed in a 1980 letter.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe spoke all three main Nigerian languages, gave his children names of other ethnic groups and named key institutions for leaders of different ethnic groups, including his opponents. When Zik established the University of Nigeria at Nsukka in 1960, he named its halls and residences after Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was then the Premier of the Northern Region, Chief Samuel Akintola, who was the Western Premier and Chief Awolowo, who was leader of the opposition in Parliament.
Above all, Zik’s bold and imaginative development strides resulted in the country’s rapid development. Zik’s establishment of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, caused the Western Region to establish the University of Ife and the Northern Region to set up Ahmadu University, Zaria. Zik’s establishment of the African Continental Bank (ACB), Nigeria’s first indigenous bank, led to the Western government’s building of the National Bank and the Northern Region’s building of the Bank of the North. Zik was truly phenomenal.
Zik gave Nigeria its first steel company, named Nigersteel Company Limited, in Emenu. He also gave Nigeria its first gas firm, named Nigergas Company limited. He built the Nkalagu Cement Company at Nkalagu in today’s Ebonyi State, which was opened on January 1, 1955.
Zik was able to accomplish all these things as the Eastern Nigeria Premier when the Eastern Nigerian budget was only a fraction of those of other regions, because palm produce, the main revenue earner for the region, was not very lucrative in international market. In contrast, cocoa and groundnut, which were the main revenue sources for the Western and Northern regions, respectively, were sold at high prices.
Against this background, it is most regrettable that the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo people, chose to hold a political meeting when the whole nation was honouring the Great Zik of Africa, rather than participate in the ceremony. There cannot be any possible justification by the Ohanaeze officers to undermine the place of Dr. Azikiwe in our history.
While commending the Federal Government for according Zik his final resting peace, Anambra State is naturally playing Oliver Twist by asking the Buhari administration to hasten the execution of federal projects in the state like the Federal Secretariat, as well as federal roads. What is more, the state is asking the central government to reimburse it the funds expended on the reconstruction of federal roads.
• Hon. Ifedioranma represents Njikoka in the Anambra State House of Assembly