This is the second time since I started publishing articles under this eponymous platform, that the revered champion of African liberation from colonial debasement, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, is appearing on my headlines. Sadly, they are not for good reasons. On the contrary, they arise from heart-rending behaviour that tends to suggest that the good examples of selflessness and brotherhood set by one of the greatest Africans that ever lived, committed such great mentorship miscalculations that would be drawing tears from whatever remains of his “remains” in his Onusi Onira Mausoleum.
The soul of this great African must be troubled by some of the clannish pronouncements credited to the very person he handed over the mantle of leadership of his inclusive political school of thought, in the person of Senator Jim Nwobodo, former Governor of old Anambra State. Zik must be troubled because, from recent developments, it appears that Jim never learnt any lessons from the man who mentored him on the values of constructive integration.
I was in primary school when Jim was elected the Governor of Anambra State. I was in my Primary 2 then but I still remember very vividly the pre-election campaigns posturing that made us love Jim. My early memory of him was a photo of him on an almanac where he was profiled as the Chairman of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu. We so loved Rangers. We still love this club. That love was transferred by the people of the state then (now balkanized into Enugu, Anambra, and Ebonyi States) to Jim, who, I also remember, was also mentioned as the Chairman of Greenfield Construction Company in that same almanac.
I grew up in the village but because my father was an outgoing, hardworking insurance salesman, I was exposed to reading newspapers quite early and early in his first term in office, I read quite a few news items in the state-owned newspaper then, Daily Star, where Jim referred to Zik as his father. We all believed him. We also believed he was head and shoulders above everyone else as the scion of the Zikist political philosophy.
Reaching into these childhood memories and juxtaposing them with what I see as the mutant manifestations of Jim of recent, especially in the political firmament of Enugu State, I am wont to think Zik was deceived.
His famous utterances about where his choice of candidate for the governorship of the state should come from point to a man whose political philosophy and inclination are diametrically opposed to that of his mentor and political godfather. Although he later made spirited attempts to diffuse his statement, his earlier faux pas about supporting only a candidate from his native Nkanu East has been sending cold shovers down the spines of every person who had expected him to be leading the charge for a united, stronger Enugu. But not Jim. As far as he is concerned, nobody is worthy of occupying the seat at Enugu Government House in 2023 if that person is not from Nkanu East.
Zik lost the battle to build a united Nigeria and that is quite sad, given his dedication to that project. But to also have lost the battle to mentor people who would be so broadminded as to work towards the good of all rather than the advantages of their communities sum up the very sordid tale of the legacy of a man who may well have thought that his protegees would continue his push for the realization of his Pan-Africanist dreams.
Jim’s failure to grow beyond himself and his immediate community attracts even more worrisome when a peep is taken back in time to 1998, when, at the convention of the People’s Democratic Party in Kano, he, as a presidential aspirant then, had stepped down in favour of the candidature of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, thereby throwing the aspirations of former Vice President of Nigeria, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme under the bus.
Ekwueme was his tribesman in the larger Nigerian context and, if the character manifestations of this handsome political leader would for the parameter for judgment, should have been Jim’s choice candidate. Even in the midst of the anger that poured forth from many Igbo people back then, there were some of us who viewed the decision to support Obasanjo against his “brother” from the wider prism of nationalism. But to find the same person, decades and transformations later, to retreat into such centrifugal parochial political viewpoint can hardly be explainable.
The tragedy of the class of leaders produced since the return of democracy in Nigeria is that rather than grow to inspire unity and oneness, what we mostly see are pretentious nationalists who, at the smallest opportunity, manifest signs of helpless tribal leaders. If given the chance, these men would apportion the leadership space with only their kinsmen and children, at the expense of the others
Jim was the beneficiary of Zik’s gracious embrace of oneness. An Onitsha man, who lived the better part of his life in Nsukka, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, had he been like his mentee, could have thrown his weight behind great Anambra sons who were in the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) then for the governorship of Anambra State. There was Chief Nathaniel Anah, who later went to the Senate. There was Dr Ifeanyi Enechukwu, who later went to the Anambra State House of Assembly, serving as the Speaker of the House. Then there was Engr Roy Umenyi, a Biafra war veteran that stepped down to become Jim’s Deputy.
Had Zik pushed for any of his kinsmen in Onitsha for that position, chances were there for him to have his way because every one of them who wanted careers in political leadership was standing under the vast shadow of Zik of Africa. It is said that the apple does not fall far from its tree, but it appears Jim grew to mutate into an oil bean seed, who, when mature, bursts its long pod in loud aplomb and flying to a distant place to begin a new life. Even the oil bean seed is better, because, however far it flies from its parent, it still grows into an oil bean tree and not velvet bean.
Looking back, it becomes easier to understand why, in the race for who became the governor of Enugu State in 1999, Jim went for his fellow Nkanu man, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani. Nnamani was far away in the United States when he was plucked to take the ticket of the PDP. I remember that I had just finished my compulsory national youth service programme and was back home, thinking of how to start a career when the party primaries took place. Back then, the candidate we all knew and who had campaigned vigorously for the position, was one Okey Agu. But on the day of the primaries, Nnamani’s posters suddenly emerged and word went around that he was the candidate “they said” we should vote for.
That “they said” eventually became “Jim said” and because people saw him as the leading light in the party then, everyone gravitated to the man whom majority of the people had only seen in campaign posters and whose claim for the number one position was his association with Jim.
So, when Dr Chimaroke Nnamani joined Jim in trumpeting the superiority of a fellow Nkanu man, Nkanu East for that matter, his was easier to chew, having been the beneficiary of clannish politics. Even then, questions must be asked of Dr Nnamani who lived almost all his adult life in the United States where nepotism was not prime factor in political leadership selection should be found to be associating divisive sectional politicking back in his homeland?
The Nkanu land in Enugu is not made of only the people of Nkanu East and Nkanu West. The people of Nike and Ogwuiyi in present Enugu East, Enugu North, and Enugu South Local Government Areas are all of the same Nkanu progeny. So, why don’t the likes of Nwobodo and Nnamani support candidates from these areas? Are they any less Nkanu than those from the area now eponymously named?
The tragedy of the class of leaders produced since the return of democracy in Nigeria is that rather than grow to inspire unity and oneness, what we mostly see are pretentious nationalists who, at the smallest opportunity, manifest signs of helpless tribal leaders. If given the chance, these men would apportion the leadership space with only their kinsmen and children, at the expense of the others. We are mostly republican in Igbo land, but I suspect there are emerging signs of obnoxious quasi-monarchical tendencies by those privileged to get our support to lead us. A culture of blue-blood democracy is unfolding right before us and we must quickly resist its spread.
For instance, I am aware that during the administration of Dr Nnamani, this same Jim found space for his son to serve in that government. I also know that Dr Nnamani’s son, after graduating from the university abroad, returned to do his national youth service in Enugu Government House. He is most likely, still there, driving around in an official SUV, even when his name never appeared as a senior government appointee. Another former governor, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, has also found space for his son in government.
If we are to succeed in welding our increasingly fracturing society together, the first thing we must do is to resist the subtle, sometimes aggressive, clan dominance practices projected from those we mostly look up to for direction. If Jim and Chimaroke have failed to rise above the pulls of community political deification, what would be the lot of the ordinary people whose worldview has been limited, by lack of travel and interaction, to what their immediate environment presents to them?
If Zik, an Onitsha man, saw great leadership potentials in Jim Nwobodo and made him governor, there is nothing stopping our brother from appreciating that there are excellent leaders in other parts of Enugu apart from Nkanu East. If he fails to see that, it is our duty to refresh his memory. If, on his part, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani chooses to follow the narrow political examples of his godfather, it is also incumbent on us to remind him that he never could have become governor, had we not all agreed, even if Jim had significantly influenced our so agreeing.
We cannot continue like this!