ZIK IS AFRICA AND AWO IS YORUBA
Obafemi Jeremiah Oyeniyi Awolowo was a true Yoruba Patriot and fought for the Yoruba cause. His motto was Yoruba first, Nigeria second. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe could not claim to be an Igbo Patriot. People of Onitsha from where he hailed, do not consider themselves Igbos. They migrated from Benin and the Benin migrated from Ile-Ife in Yoruba land (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/beni_2/hd_beni_2.htm). The series of land wars fought between Onitsha and its Igbo neighbors did not endear the Igbos to Onitsha people. Although Onitsha people spoke Igbo, they referred to Igbos as Ndi-Igbo (Strangers), which did not endear them to Igbo people. The first Western Educated Igbos were from Onitsha. Lying on the River Niger, it was one of the first communities to benefit from Western Education. Two of the pre-eminent secondary or high schools in the whole of Africa, Christ the King College (CKC), and Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), are situated in Onitsha close to the River Niger. They have produced leaders in every facet of Nigerian educational, scientific, political, economic, and social lives.
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe or ZIk as he is fondly called could not openly profess his Igbo connection because the Igbos most of whom caught up with Onitsha after a few decades in the area of education were loathed by other Nigerians. Their bravery, industriousness, drive, tenacity of purpose, and resilience made Igbos successful in all aspects of the Nigerian economy. Igbos were hated by the Moslem North who engaged in Igbo killing parties starting in 1945 and continuing till today. The Yorubas loathed the Igbos also but did not have the galls to kill them. Zik was born in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria, spent time in Onitsha in his youth, and lived in Lagos on his return from the USA via Ghana (Gold Coast). He consequently spoke Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba in addition to having a good command of the English language. He could feel at home in any part of Nigeria.
With the immense jealousy swirling around anything Igbo, Zik felt that his road to political greatness was to claim the whole African continent as his constituency. He thus became Zik of Africa and not Zik of Nigeria or Zik of Igbo land, while Awolowo became Awo of Yoruba land. Zik emphasized his Igbo heritage only in times of distress. After being denied a seat to the Federal Legislature representing Lagos, which he won convincingly, through the machinations of Awo in 1951, he moved his political operations to Eastern Nigeria where he ousted Eyo Ita to become Premier of Eastern Region in 1953. The betrayal of Zik by Awo and his Action Group (AG) aided by Yoruba members of his own party, the NCNC ( National Convention of Nigeria and the Cameroon) further exacerbated the Yoruba- Igbo ethnic divide. The ouster of Eyo Ita, an Efik, did not endear the Igbos to the Ethnic minorities in Eastern Nigeria despite an Efik, The Obong of Calabar, being the Chairman of the Eastern House of Chiefs, and a Fulani man, Mallam Umaru Altine, being the Mayor of Enugu. Instead of the aggrieved ascribing Zik’s action to Africa, the Igbos took the heat. If Eyo Ita had returned as Premier of Eastern Nigeria, it is extremely likely that the ethnic minorities who were massacred along with the Igbos in the Northern Pogroms of 1966 will have supported the Igbos in the Biafran cause.
In the early 1970’s, Nnamdi Azikiwe feeling the effects of being left out of the political limelight by the military regime advocated diarchy for Nigeria. By diarchy, he meant that governance should be a joint civilian-military affair. This unprecedented support for military rule by a foremost African democrat must have emboldened the Nigerian Military to truncate Nigerian democracy repeatedly. To show his non-Igbo origins, he gave a lecture at Margaret Ekpo Hall, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where he espoused his far-fetched idea of diarchy in addition to creating 24 States in Nigeria. He created Anioma State that bundled Onitsha with the Igbo speaking areas of then Bendel State across the River Niger, but left the core Igbo areas of Idemili, Nnewi, Njikoka, and Aguata without a State. Responding to a shouted question from an audience member on why he left those areas out, he responded that they were free to join any state of their choice. Begging to join a state makes one an instant second-class citizen. Why would an Igbo beg fellow Igbos to join their state? For one to understand Zik’s action, one needs to know that Onitsha people are mainly civil servants, technocrats, and white-collar workers. Advocating a nationwide fair deal for the Igbos will favor non-Onitsha Igbos. It will not favor Onitsha Igbos.
Zik’s actions towards the end of the Nigerian-Biafran war also question his allegiance to the Igbo cause. He was and is not the only Igbo to disagree with Odumegwu Ojukwu’s war methods and pronouncements but it is the height of treachery for someone revered by the Igbos despite his anti-Igbo actions to recommend a Biafran surrender from the enemy’s capital territory, Lagos, Nigeria. He could have done it from London or Paris. Finally, if Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe knew, suspected, or heard Ahmadu Bello’s hateful comments about the Igbos in his interview and still insisted on One Nigeria, then something must be wrong! Now you can understand why Awo is Yoruba and Zik is Africa.