By Martins Ori
It’s not really very conceivable how this notorious insinuation that Zik never did anything for Ndigbo came about. Even more disturbing is why it has been sustained., and now accepted by a good number of Ndigbo as true.
Politically, Zik’s noble achievements for Nigeria in general and Ndigbo in particular, may not be equalled by any politician again. In the First Republic, Zik’s towering greatness produced an Igbo as president (himself), senate president (Nwafor Orizu), Nwachuku (Speaker of HOR), and Aguiyi Ironsi was the head of the army. Zik mentored and inspired a generation of Igbo politicians, including Mbaonu Ojike, M. I. Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, Mbadiwe, Raymond Njoku, Mbazulike Amaechi and many others.
It was Zik, as Eastern Premier that commenced the economic revolution that made
( 1954 and 1964,) Eastern Nigeria to be described as “the fastest growing economy in the world,” by the Harvard Review; faster than China, faster than Singapore, and all the so-called “Asian Tigers.”
Obi Nwakamma, an American based professor stated in his Vanguard on Sunday column that “all over the East there were quality schools built by the various communities using the Town Development Unions from 1954 (Zik was the premier at that time) and acessing the matching grants of the Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation. And this was the East with the poorest revenue resources of any of the regions. The Mbaise Secondary School still exists, the National High School Okigwe exists, the Ngwa High School exists, the Enyiogugu Grammar School exists, etc. These were solid schools built all over the East with matching goverment grants (provided by Zik’s administration).
“The Catholic Church forced the Azikiwe government from its scholarship program, but it is also on record, that the Eastern government was the only government in the world that invested 45% of its revenues in education. The East had the highest number of schools; the highest school enrollment; the broadest penetration of medical services; and the best modern road network in west Africa.
“Indeed if we look carefully, the only public hospitals and most of the schools still standing in the East today, at various stages of run down are the schools and hospitals built by Azikiwe/Okpara. Every division of the East had a Joint Hospital as part of the Eastern Medical services.
“First, the Eastern Outlook, the government paper of Eastern Nigeria was the first newspaper established by any government in Nigeria, and it was of such quality and impact that the literacy level of Easterners, and the depth of public information retailed by Outlook was without compare. This is besides the fact that Western Nigerian Broadcast Services, WNBS-TV founded in 1958 only preceded the ENBC-TV founded in 1959, by only seven months. But Outlook preceded Sketch by about 15 years.
Now Azikiwe built the Onitsha Modern Market, the first modern mall or trade emporium in West Africa. Onitsha was effectively Dubai before Dubai. People traveled all over Africa, from as far as the Congo and Sudan and Egypt, to come and buy and trade in Onitsha. The economic impact of this was humonguos. Azikiwe built the first Nigerian University at Nsukka with the first School of Law, the first School of Engineering, the first Business School; the first School of Journalism, and the first School of Music and Performance, etc. By the time its first graduates took the Nigerian civil service exams in 1963, everybody began to raise the cry of “Igbo domination”.
“Azikiwe began the first modern library system in West Africa. The East had a system of city libraries starting with the very modern Zik’s Library in Enugu. I Literally grew up in the Umuahia Divisional Library. These libraries were built all over the East. Schools in the East were built with libraries. Moreover the Eastern Nigerian Library Board had a sysem of rural and mobile libraries. There was nothing like it anywhere else in Nigeria: kids had library cards and able to borrow or order books from the public library.
“The great Ibadan historian, Tekena Tamuno, was unambiguous in stating once at NIPPS, Jos, that “the Igbos are the makers of moderm Nigeria (and it was led by Zik) . When they abandoned their project, Nigeria collapsed.” We must remind Nigerians, particularly Igbo children, daily of these fact, to achieve what Achebe called ” a balance of stories.” And that also means we must read beyond the surface of things. Dare Babarinsa’s Guardian essay is angled carefully to maintain a revisionist narrative. And that is to be always challenged, however innocent it might seem.
“Even today, most Yoruba think that Awolowo founded the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos. No one has reminded them that it took Azikiwe’s pressures for a university for Nigeria, in his meeting with Arthur Richards in 1946, that led to the cobstitution of the Eliot commision and subsequently the founding of the University College, Ibadan. This fact is even clearly conveyed in Michael Crowder’s eponymous book, The Story of Nigeria. Nsukka was Azikiwe’s critique of what he felt to be the conceptual limitations of Ibadan. The University of Lagos was the result of NCNC’s ideological contributions to the federal policy during the ill fated coalition government with the NPC. UNILAG was an NCNC project, shepherded by Aja Wachukwu as minister for education. Even the great UNILAG in her 50th anniversary failed to mention Prof Eni Njoku as the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the university, a man that layed the solid foundation of what made Unilag what it is today”.
Those who clap with one hand quickly forget that Zik put in place the financial giant called African Continental Bank, ABC. He brought Okpara as the premier to replace him and equally guided him in building Eastern Breweries that produced Golden Guinea, Adapalm that still serves as a huge revenue products to South East states, farmlands, ceramics industry, glass industry, cashew plantations, Nkalagu Cement Factory, constructed various kilometres of roads, including the Owerri – Mbaise – Obowo – Umuahia Road.
From all available records, Zik performed wonders for Ndigbo in particular and Nigeria in general.
Continue to rest in peace and happy posthumous birthday, the great Zik of Africa.