Certain issues in Nigeria must tower above partisan politics. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the only black Governor-General of Nigeria, the first President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the only Nigerian whose name appeared in a Constitution of Nigeria, among many other sterling firsts, remains a binding force of togetherness in Nigeria. As President Muhammadu Buhari undertakes the landmark inauguration of the Zik Mausoleum, aka Zik’s Place, in Onitsha, Anambra State, it is crucial to celebrate the essence of the feat instead of dabbling into the accident of the country’s political partisanship and divisions.
The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, deserves commendation for stressing that the Zik Mausoleum is not being used by President Buhari to woo Igbo people for political support. According to Fashola, the Buhari administration decided to work on the mausoleum as a mark of honour to the late sage, especially as the project has suffered abandonment by successive administrations.
Nigeria’s foremost nationalist, Nnamdi Azikiwe, universally known as Zik of Africa, died on May 11, 1996, aged 92. The initial contract for the construction of the Zik Mausoleum was awarded in 1997 to Messrs Lemmy Akakem for N350 million. It became abandoned and overtaken by weeds until it was re-awarded in 2013 to a French construction company at N1.49 billion. Upon coming to power in 2015, Buhari did not mince words in giving marching orders to Fashola that the contractor must deliver the job by October 2018.
The Zik Mausoleum consists of the museum housing Zik’s grave and an administrative unit on two floors. The administrative block is made up of a reception, offices, conference halls, VIP lounge, museum-cum-archives, video display room, research, library, documentation section and conveniences.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, as the host supreme, made the special point of inspecting the completed mausoleum and stated that the completion was an immeasurable honour to Anambra people and the entire Southeast people. Obiano then appealed to the Federal Government to step up action in the procurement of necessary facilities for the library section. Giving requisite accolade to President Buhari, Obiano said: “The project is an honour to Zik of Africa, who played major roles in shaping the nation. This project started 23 years ago and we must thank President Buhari for keeping to his words.’’
It is so befitting that the Zik Mausoleum now follows in the line of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the grave of King Mausolus of Persia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Zik happens to be a modern wonder.
Politician, poet, author, orator, sportsman, visionary, nationalist, but above all else, a remarkable human being, Zik lived and died as the acclaimed Father of Modern Nigeria. Zik was the quintessential Nigerian. Born in the Hausa-Fulani North of Eastern Igbo parentage, Zik spent his most productive years in the Yoruba West. He spoke Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo fluently, as well as other Nigerian languages. He was a welcome presence everywhere in the country.
A native of Onitsha in Anambra State, Zik was born on November 16, 1904, in Zungeru. He had his early education at the esteemed Hope Waddell Institute, Calabar. After further education in Lagos, he stowed away on an America-bound cargo boat in his dogged search of the fabled Golden Fleece. He was smoked out of his hiding place and cast overboard off the coast of Accra, Ghana. He refused to accept defeat and still made his way to America, the land of his dreams. When the suffering in the United States got so much he attempted suicide on a railway line but was saved by a Good Samaritan.
Zik was inspired by the vision of the early Ghanaian nationalist Kwegyir Aggrey. The legendary American jurist Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court judge in the US, was Zik’s classmate. Zik served as a lecturer in his alma mater, Lincoln University, before travelling back to Africa, first to Ghana, because he wanted to liberate the entire African continent.
Forced out of Ghana by the British colonisers with a charge of sedition due to his editorship of the Accra Morning Post, Zik relocated to his native Nigeria to found the West African Pilot. He then joined forces on August 26, 1944, with the venerable Herbert Macaulay to start up the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).
Zik’s pan-Nigerian vision was such that he made Lagos and the West his base, instead of the East. Zik and his NCNC were poised to form the government of the Western House of Assembly in 1951 until the Action Group (AG) turned the tables through the infamous carpet-crossing incident.
Zik then became the Premier of the Eastern Region in 1954. He was in the forefront of Nigeria’s fight for independence, and his NCNC had the highest number of popular votes in the 1959 Independence elections even as the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) won more constituencies as mapped out by the British. He was appointed President of the Senate and shortly after Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, he became the Governor-General of the federation. He was appointed the President of Nigeria in 1963, when Nigeria became a Republic.
The Zikist essence is enshrined in the motto of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which he founded: “Show the light so that the people can find a way.” A believer in healthy competition, he charged his fellow Igbo people who were lacking in education to go to school so that they could match the Yoruba who had earlier encounters with the white man’s education. He led stellar Igbo sons known as “The Argonauts” to go searching for education. In Zik’s lifetime, the Igbo took up the challenge such that they shot ahead of others, which led to the spectre of the so-called Igbo domination.
Zik was the lionised author of books such as Renascent Africa, Liberia in World Politics, My Odyssey, etc. The great man was equally at home with traditional matters as the Owelle of Onitsha.
Now that a mausoleum has been built in his name, the significance of Zik as Nigeria’s pre-eminent statesman should continue to shine forth. In inaugurating the Zik Mausoleum, President Buhari has paved the way to go in the Nigerian essence. Zik remains alive even in death as the quintessential Renaissance Man.
• Uzoatu is an established poet and journalist in Lagos