By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
I am in Onitsha, the city on the bank of the River Niger in Anambra State, and the only matter on my mind is the Zik Mausoleum. 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. The Zik Mausoleum, aka Zik’s Place, in Onitsha, Anambra State, is crucial to the celebration of the pan-Nigerian essence instead of dabbling into the accident of the country’s political partisanships and divisions.
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, President Muhammadu Buhari gave marching orders to Works Minister Babatunde 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.
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 n 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 USA, 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 table through the controversial 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 lagging behind in education to go to school so that they could match the other Nigerian ethnic nationalities and riverine peoples 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 people 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. Zik remains alive even in death as the quintessential Renaissance Man.
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu is the author of God of Poetry.