The man, Arthur Nwankwo
There are no security men in the massive compound that serves as his private residence in New Haven, Enugu. The entrance gate, even with the high level of insecurity in the country, is permanently flung open. Any visitor, no matter his/her mission, freely walks through the gate to the main building codenamed “The Chancery,” into the sitting room on the ground floor and his upper sitting room and other rooms in the building, no matter the time.
No known Nigerian that has made it to the top through political activism had ever lived this way. Yet elder statesman, erudite scholar, activist, writer, publisher and politician, Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, who died last Saturday, February 1, 2020, chose to live that way.
For Nwankwo, “The Chancery” is almost like a national centre of intellectual ideas, dialogue and sanctuary for the oppressed and the hunted. It should, therefore, not be limited to anyone. Inside one of the upper rooms near the study are two sets of television – kept there to monitor events around the globe. They are permanently on. It is also to ensure that no professional league match played anywhere in the world is missed at the Chancery.
During a visit to the Chancery to interview Dr. Nwankwo around August 2016, this had anxiously wondered why he would not devise a means of securing the compound by employing security services. The man had laughed and to the reporter’s chagrin retorted: “I don’t know why I need security. I don’t have anything to hide. Are you not happy that you could walk into my room unrestrained? What is the thief coming to steal? I did not steal from anybody, so nobody will steal from me.
“Nigerians started suffering, when those in leadership realised they could loot the country with protection by security agencies; when they know that they are guarded in the morning, afternoon and night, so that those they have deprived will not have opportunities to ask questions. That is the problem of the country.”
A professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof Obasi Igwe, had responded to the issue this way: “The way everywhere is open to anybody in his residence shows his openness of mind towards his fellow-men. He had no skeleton in his cupboard. He had no pin; he had no razor to hurt anybody.
“He was an open person and genuine to a fault. His Calabar cooks would prepare food for everybody in his house. It was at Arthur Nwankwo’s place that I first met Ojukwu physically. Go close to him and you will see that he is a genius. “I was a contributor to the National Outlook, a newspaper published by Fourth Dimension. Arthur invited me to be a contributor, and he was paying me. Go to the Chancery, you will see Igbo people, Hausa people and Yoruba people. This is another opportunity to build a cenotaph in his remembrance. Nigeria should build a memorial in his honour
“All our security outfits will come to nothing, except we audit the armed forces and ensure that every Nigerian is represented in the security architecture from other ranks to the middle and lower ranks.
“The best way to honour Arthur Nwankwo is to recognise the necessity as enshrined in the objective fundamental of state policy in Nigeria, which says people should be treated equally, and that a state has responsibility towards its citizens to make sure that this country is built on equality.Nwankwo died at the age of 78 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku-Ozalla, Enugu State after a protracted illness. It was exactly 26 days after he was rushed to the medical facility.
• Early Life And Political Activism
BORN on August 19, 1942 at Ajalli, Orumba north local government, Anambra State, he attended Primary and secondary schools in Nigeria before travelling overseas for his university education.The Biafra/Nigeria Civil war was said to have broken out soon after Nwankwo graduated from the university. He was said to have voluntarily returned to the country to join forces with Biafra in the struggle for the independence of Biafra.
To further underscore his commitment to the struggle and emancipation of his people, he was said to have boarded a flight to Cameroon, since there was no direct flight to Nigeria from his base. On getting to Nigeria and discovering that the borders had been closed, he waited until midnight to hire a speedboat that brought him to Oron in Akwa Ibom State, from where he found his way to Enugu. The journey was said to have taken five days.
Upon returning to Enugu, Nwankwo was deployed to edit the Biafra Newsletter, whose sole purpose was to report the atrocities of the war. It was in the process of doing this that he started co-authoring a book on
Biafra –The birth of a Nation.
Writing about Nwankwo’s activities and his efforts to publish the book during the war in a book, “Critical, Creative and Centered Scholar Activism,” Prof Biko Agozino said: “On a trip to London, he took the manuscript to publishers, who promptly offered him the biggest amount of money he had ever seen as advance royalties. The book is reported to have sold more than three million copies to date. At the end of the war, the military government decided to implement the indigenisation policy, ordering that multinational companies in the country must have majority indigenous shareholders at a time that the war-time savings of people were confiscated in return for a paltry twenty pounds for each family head, while their real estates were seized as ‘abandoned properties.”
He explained that the development motivated Nwankwo into thinking of establishing an autonomous indigenous publishing company, an idea that pulled through in 1976, with the setting up of Fourth Dimension Publishing Company, adding “it soon became the biggest indigenous publishing house in Black Africa, with over 1500 titles published to date.”
Nwankwo combined publishing business with political activism, and nine years after the war ended, was part of the formation of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), alongside the late Aminu Kano, S.G Ikoku and Wole Soyinka. It was on the platform of the PRP that he ran for the governorship position of Anambra State in 1979, but lost to Jim Nwobodo of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).
A few years into Nwobodo’s administration, he was said to have seized a land belonging to Nwankwo on the guise that it was for the overriding public interests. The bubble burst. Nwankwo went to court and while the matter was still in court, he wrote a book with the title “How Jim Nwobodo rules Anambra State.”
The book was said to have chronicled all that the administration was doing in the state, as well as the monumental fraud and actions against the people.The Nwobodo government, which felt maligned by the publication, dragged him to court for alleged sedition. He was convicted and jailed. Nwankwo was said to have appealed the decision of the High Court and won. The court had ruled that sedition law should be removed from the criminal code for being contrary to the nation’s Constitution.
It was a celebrated case. Nwankwo told a reporter in one of his interviews: “That is why nobody is charging journalists in this country again for sedition. It was my matter that nailed that provision and ensured it was expunged from the Constitution. Otherwise, our politicians will still rely on it to jail journalists.”
The Nwobodo government appealed the ruling, though he could not continue in office to pursue the matter. The Onoh administration that took over did not pursue the matter further.During General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) transition to civil rule, his party, the Liberal Convention, was not registered. He refused to join the two parties created by Babangida – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) – but rather stayed with the unregistered Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), which was floated by the Eastern Mandate Union, Afenifere, Movement of National Reformation and other “progressives” in Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt.
His implacable opposition to the dictatorship of the late Gen. Sanni Abacha – Babangida’s successor – led to his arrest and detention on June 3, 1998. Fortuitously, Abacha died four weeks later and Nwankwo regained his freedom.When democracy commenced in 1998, Nwankwo, ever the maverick, once again disdained the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where majority of top Igbo politicians were gathered, to team up with the
Alliance for Democracy (AD), to fight what was turning out to be a dominant PDP. He did not have a choice, considering that he was the Vice Chair of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which waged a long, bloody, and relentless battle to oust the late General Sanni Abacha and restore the mandate given to Chief MKO Abiola – and to return the country to civil rule, when MKO unfortunately died. Majority of NADECO members had found a home in the Alliance for Democracy (AD), one of the grandmothers of today’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
Nwankwo, on resumption of political associations with support from the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), where he was Chancellor formed the Peoples Mandate Party (PMP), on whose platform he ran the 2007 presidential election against the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. Although, he did not make any headway politically with the party, he continued to nurture PMP until he died.
Arthur authored more than 20 books in his lifetime. These include, Biafra: The Making of a Nation, 1969; Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra, 1972; Nigeria: My People, My Vision, 1980; Can Nigeria Survive, 1981; Nigeria: After Oil, What Next? 1982; How Jim Nwobodo Governs Anambra State, 1983; Corruption in Anambra State, 1983; Civilized Soldiers: Army-Civilian Government for Nigeria, 1984; National Consciousness for Nigeria, 1985; The Igbo Leadership and the Future of Nigeria, 1985 among others.
Since his demise penultimate Saturday, condolences have continued to pour from friends and all those who had something to do with him. Nwankwo, from their account lived a fulfilled life.
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State said, “Nwankwo should not die. Anambra, Ndigbo and Nigeria will miss him.”Meanwhile, the Nigeria’s Democratic Movement (NDM) has announced the plan to celebrate and immortalise his eventful life and struggles in Enugu, Abuja and Lagos.
The group said democratic forces in the country are already consulting on how best to celebrate and immortalise the resourceful life and struggles of Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, who departed at a time NDM was planning to initiate a major Pan-Nigerian National Political Summit to intervene in the current insecurity and instability in the country.
It described Nwankwo as one of the surviving icons and veterans of its struggle against military rule, and for the restoration of the current fledgling democracy in Nigeria, adding that he was a revolutionary political economist and activist, a prolific author and resourceful publisher during his lifetime, who crusaded against social injustice in Nigeria.