The commissioning of Zik Mausoleum by President Muhammadu Buhari at a trying time in Nigeria’s democracy, and in an election season, is not only remarkable but an event that can be considered divine-ordained. The significance of this epoch-making occasion centres on the principles and values that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, held sacred in his contributions to the nation’s unity and institutionalisation of democracy.
Upholding Nigeria’s unity and advancing its economic fortune remained Zik’s priority in his fight for the emancipation of Nigeria and the entire Black race from the vestiges of colonialism. It is on record that Zik’s unparalleled service to his fatherland was anchored to his faith in Nigeria’s unity as a window to unlock the great potential for Nigerians to attain greatness among the comity of nations. The assembly of Nigeria’s crème la de crème at the commissioning of the Mausoleum in Onitsha, Anambra State on January 24, 2019, attests to the recognition accorded to Dr. Azikiwe’s role in Nigeria’s journey to nationhood.
In one of his celebrated press interviews, which a popular national television station – Africa Independent Television (AIT) – still replays, Dr. Azikiwe maintained that it did not matter to him who eventually emerged as Nigeria’s post-independence leader – Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto; Chief Obafemi Awolowo, or himself. “What is important to me is that Nigeria will become independent come October 1, 1960,” Zik told a foreign journalist in the television interview that has not lost the voice quality.
Happening over 20 years after it was initiated, the commissioning of the mausoleum at this time should remind us that the “labour of our heroes past”, as we sing in our National Anthem, “shall never be in vain”. Naturally, such events are not devoid of political bickering, as we have observed in recent weeks among political gladiators; it is important to emphasise that the historic significance of the event should remain the focus: To honour Dr. Azikiwe and to preserve the legacy of a man who was the most central figure in Nigeria’s fight for political unity and independence. President Buhari has also maintained that the event was not bait for Igbo votes in the forthcoming general elections.
Evidently, the time-lag had thrown up sentiments among prominent Nigerians, opinion leaders and other concerned citizens who argue that the Mausoleum ought to have been delivered earlier than now, given the euphoria that greeted the start of the project. Successive governments, both military and civilian, apparently did not realise the great harm they did to Nigeria’s national image by not giving priority to the completion of the tomb – the resting place of a man who gave his all for the liberation of his people from the shackles of colonialism.
Credit must be given to Governor Willie Obiano who maintained contact with the federal government on the importance of completing the project. He has expressed reservations that the project was executed without impressive enthusiasm by previous federal administrations. However, the urgency the Muhammadu Buhari-led government applied to the project resulted in its eventual commissioning. This is commendable.
As many commentators have observed, regardless of political differences, tribal or religious sentiments, President Buhari deserves commendations for going the extra mile to demonstrate that honour should be given to whom it is due by giving Zik a befitting place of rest as conceived by the initiators of the monumental Inosi Onira Retreat. “President Buhari is determined to keep to his promises on the Zik’s Mausoleum. 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,’’ Obiano said after inspecting the mausoleum.
Beyond politics, Zik saw the need to harness the diverse culture and multi-ethnic differences of the people, by delving into economic empowerment and human capital development. He was instrumental to the establishment of the African Intercontinental Bank (ACB) in 1940, the first indigenous bank created to support the economic growth of the country. This was when the colonial masters arrogated to themselves the power to create wealth, multiply wealth and retain wealth. The founding of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), in 1960, lived up to its motto: “For the dignity of man”, as it became a rallying point for Nigerians of all ethnic groups to live together and reclaim their dignity through educational pursuit that would eventually wipe out all the vestiges of colonialism.
Today, the alumni association of UNN has membership that transcends virtually all the ethnic groups through which developmental objectives and issues of national interest are discussed. Solutions are also proffered to many political and socio-economic problems that have potential of threatening our national unity. The annual Zik’s Award in leadership which the family gave their consent to be organised by reputable groups provides the window of recognition extended to Nigerians from all walks of life.
As Zik once said, “We are confident that only by the crystallisation of democracy in all aspects of our national life and thought – political, economic, and social – can we develop pari passu with the other progressive nations of the peace-loving world.” The event should therefore offer our leaders and other players in the political space the opportunity for sober reflection regarding their role in preserving the legacies of Zik and offering the desired leadership to the people. That way, they will be honouring a man who said at independence in October 1960, “My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state”. What more could one desire in life?
-Hon Okechi is ex member, Anambra State House of Assembly and ex chairman of the Committee on Information and of Public Complaints Committee.