The none governmental organisation (NGO) “Igbo Nsukka United Front (INUF)” today, Monday, 14th September,recognises the heroes of development in the Igbo Nsukka, a Local Government in Enugu State as the group through its media team led by Zoba De Great wrote on its official publication:
OUR HEROES PAST (Pt1)
CELEBRATING THE PILLARS OF DEVELOPMENT IN IGBO NSUKKA
DR. BENJAMIN NNAMDI AZIKIWE (ZIK OF AFRICA)
“Here lies the dead leaves;
The body may lie in moldering chancel,
or in crumbling vault,
but the rumors of noble lives,
the record of valor and truth, can never die,
but lives on in the souls and minds of the people.
Our own work lies ready in our hands;
and yet our strength may be the greater and our faith the firmer if we spare an hour from present toils
to look back upon the…. works of men who loved honor more than life,
on this green stage of life
where for a few short years, we play our little part”—-
(Sir Authur Connan Doyle)
Amongst our Vision and Mission which is to chart the roadmap to properly develop our Igbo Nsukka land, we found it germane and necessary to bring out time to celebrate those who dug the foundation and started the journey of the development of Nsukka land before us, especially those who have departed and are no longer with us; our heroes past.
First and foremost on our list is RT. HON DR. BENJAMIN NNAMDI AZIKIWE, Owelle of Onitsha, the Great Zik of Africa who by his singular act of siting the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, opened up Nsukka land to the world and gave us global recognition.
“If you don’t want to be forgotten as soon as you die, you either write things worth reading Or you do things worth writing”
By siting the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, Zik of Africa eloquently merited the above two stanzas and would never be forgotten again till the end of time.
It’s indeed a myth that in our research, we discovered that very little has been said, written or documented about the connect and relationship between Zik and Nsukka people that moved him to give Nsukka People the very first indigenous University in Nigeria nay Africa and to go the extra mile of building his home in Nsukka land and living and residing amongst the Nsukka folks till his passing on to eternal glory in 1996.
THE COMING OF ZIK TO NSUKKA
Till date every Nsukka educated elite nay every Igbo, would like to know how ZIK first came to Nsukka, interacted with Nsukka People and lived with Nsukka People.
The sketchy reports we have at our disposal is that, in the early 40s, because of his fierce Nationalistic struggles, heroic resistance and cerebral opposition to the almighty colonial authority in Nigeria, there were several assassination attempts on Zik’s life. These attempts made him to “escape from Lagos” to his home town Onitsha.
The story continues, (according to Chief ONYEMA IDOKO who had the rare privilege and opportunity of interviewing Zik in his ONUIYI HAVEN when Zik was alive) narrated that, it was Zik’s relation called BELONWU who traded with the UAC company in Nsukka that brought Zik from Onitsha to Nsukka to escape and hide from his pursuers. It was said that, his enemies would search for him in the cities of Lagos and Onitsha without finding him, not knowing that the “invisible – disappearing” Zik was relaxed in the serene far-flung Community of Nsukka.
UAC company used to carry on trades on farm Produce and other cash-crops through the routes of Omambala rivers, Ogurugu, Opanda, Nsukka and back to Onitsha.
According to Zik’s narration, at this material time he was magnanimously accommodated in the UAC quarters near the present ODENIGBO Roundabout in Nsukka town. The story continued that Zik would accompany his relation BELONWU in his trading expeditions and would sometime stop and sleep over at Opanda in UZOUWANI LGA.
Till today, Zik’s Acquisitions/Property called OPANDAROSA are still visibly standing in Opanda village.
At this stage, Zik’s incipient popularity was spreading like bush fire in a harmattan season.
On the account of this, one Okuta, said to be a giant from Uzouwani and whose family compound was opposite UAC quarters at ODENIGBO Roundabout heared about Zik as a man of great learning and staying in the UAC guesthouse. He walked into the UAC quarters to meet Zik and there and then they became friends and Zik engaged his services. Zik would later describe the Ukuta as one “tall black huge man”
To permanently cement the Ukuta’s relationship and services, Zik named one of his sons UKUTA.
The said Ukuta Family compound opposite the UAC quarters is still standing till today on top of the Ugwu-Awarawa hill.
As Zik continued to stay in the UAC guesthouse, news went out in Nsukka that there was one certain man in UAC quarters that “know book like the white man”. For this, Umunkaka of Amukwa Nsukka met and sent a delegation of their elders called Ndishi and Oha to him, to complain (oral petition) to the man of book that “huge expanse of their land” were taken away from them by the UAC company and sold for huge profit to another whiteman company called John-Holt without giving them a penny in return.
Zik, after listening to their Complaints promised them that he would “recover their land” for them. The elders of Umunkaka went home in utter disbelief, that “it can never be possible” to recover land from “Nwa bekie” ” onye-ocha”
It was said that ZIK went back to Lagos few days later, and, on the floor of the Colonial Parliament narrated how a colonial business company called UAC went to Nsukka, not only exploited Nsukka locals but “grabbed their land”, sold the “huge expanse of land” to another colonial business company called John-Holt for profit without giving the locals a penny in return. Zik was said to have described this act as “injustices of colonial imperialism in Africa” and moved a Motion that the said land be returned back to the original owners of Umunkaka and compensation paid.
With the Motion moved, the colonial Ministry of Interior was said to have swung into action, investigated the land deals between the UAC and John-Holt, found some irregularities and ordered the return of the land to Nsukka Umunkaka people.
When Zik came back to Nsukka and informed the Elders of Umunkaka of Amukwa that, that their Land sold to John-Holt by the UAC has been recovered and reverted back to them, the Elders and Nsukka folks in general couldn’t believe it. They said it was unbelievable for a “blackman to wrestle with the whitemen and win the fight”. They asked in disbelief; “is it possible for a man to dip his hand into the mouth of a LEOPARD, and bring out what Leopard has swallowed?
For this unbelievable, unimaginable heroic deed by Zik for Nsukka people, the Elders conferred on him the status of son of the soil, “from today onwards” , they had proclaimed, “you have become our child” “nwa-anyi”, the Elders declared in appreciation and went further to ask Zik to choose any part of Nsukka he wished to live and, the land would be his.
This was how Zik came to live in ONUIYI, the valley between the hills of Ugwu-Amaogbo, Ugwu-Awarawa and Ugwu-Obukpa in the present place beside Zik’s Flats Hostels UNN where his lovely wife, Professor Emeritus Uche AZIKIWE is still living till date.
By this time, Zik has come to love the hospitality, humility, peaceful nature, live -and-let-live disposition of Nsukka people, their serene environment and clemente whether all through the year. He built his abode at ONUIYI and called it ONUIYI HAVEN, (Home of Peace and Sanctuary of my Soul)
Zik stated that it was while residing in the ONUIYI HAVEN that the first thought and initiative of building a wholly indigenous University in Nigeria came into his mind.
THE FOUNDING OF UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA NSUKKA, UNN
The idea of founding University of Nigeria Nsukka was first conceptualized in his ONUIYI HAVEN residence and thus the seed of development sown and the journey of opening up of Igbo Nsukka as we know it today began.
Undoubtedly, the establishment of University of Nigeria here in Nsukka, irrevocably enhanced and propelled the level of development and exposure of Nsukka land as we know it today.
CHALLENGES OF LOCATION TO SITE THE UNIVERSITY
When the idea of founding the university was formed in the middle of 50s, the first challange was the location, where to site the University. In the Easter Region under the sphere of Zik’s authority, three locations were shortlisted namely; Nsukka in present Enugu State, Awommamma in present Imo State and Obudu in present Cross-River state. It was immediately obvious that Zik preferred Nsukka over and above the other two. Opposition to siting the University in Nsukka sprang up. Zik narrated that his choice of Nsukka was first officially challenged on the floor of Eastern Region Parliament in Enugu, where Mr Grace Alvan Ikoku and his minority caucus challenged Zik, accusing him of favouritism and wanting to establish the University in Nsukka because his mother was from Nsukka. (This was the Genesis of the mythical story that Zik’s mother came from Nsukka). Well, it was reported that ZIK did not directly refute the allegation but rather stated that as far as his geography knowledge is concerned, there was a village called Ogboli-Eke in Nsukka (probably Obollo Eke) and another Ogboli in Onitsha and since both are within Nigeria territory, therefore that his mother was simply a Nigerian, QeD!
Another significant opposition and objection to siting the premier University in Nsukka was that there was no water bore-hole or pipe- borne water in the whole of Nsukka, and no major road connecting Nsukka to Enugu, the Capital of Eastern Region at that time.
Again Zik rose to the challenge and attracted the Public Works Dept (PWD) to sink borehole in Nsukka. The borehole is still standing at it’s present location now at the University Road near the UNN main Gate. Also Zik ensured that Nsukka was connected by the construction of the Federal highway connecting Nsukka and Enugu capital city through the 9th mile corner Ngwo. The old road through Opi- Ukehe – 9th mile- Ngwo- Milliken Hill to Enugu capital is still standing till date.
Further debate on the suitability of Nsukka land for the establishment of the University, Zik was quoted to have declared thus “Nsukka is well suchad and buchad” (whatever that means, Zik won)
VISIT TO USA IN SEARCH OF FUNDS FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF UNN
ZIK had narrated to his listeners how the idea of establishing the University cropped up. He further stated that the next challenge was how to source for funds to build the University. To this end, he said he had undergone a trip to United States of America (USA) with Otigbu-Anyinya, Sir Louis Philip OJUKWU “the father of the bearded soldier” (this was how Zik fondly called Sir Louis OJUKWU then) referring to him as the father of Soldier, Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu OJUKWU known for his “significant bushy beard”
He went further, stating that when he and Sir OJUKWU arrived America via ship, (Ugbo-Oshimiri) that while they were walking along a street, they suddenly came upon a building that had carved insignias of palm tree and palm products engraved on the House. Zik said he made a quick mental cogitation and calculation of the enormity of the economic value of palm trees found in enormous abundance back home. He said, he held back Otigbu-Anyinya Sir OJUKWU and shouted “Eureka Eureka” meaning….”I have found it, I have found it”
And so when they returned back to Nigeria to Eastern Region, he constituted a panel to look into how yields and taxes from Palm Products could be utilized and channeled into the formal establishment of the University. By the time he handed over reins of government of Eastern Region to Dr Michael Iheonukara Okpara (Dr M I Okpara) as the Premier of Eastern Region, the ground was already set for the take off of the University. And so, to the eternal glory of Great Zik, the Owelle of Onitsha, the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) was formally declared open in October 1960 by Princess ALEXANDERIA.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE UNIVERSITY TO IGBO NSUKKA
The significance of establishing UNN in Nsukka land cannot be digitally quantified. The significance especially, on development is generational to Nsukka people till the end of time.
UNN since it’s establishment in 1960 coinciding with the birth of Nigeria’s independence has charted and continued to chart the economic and social life of an average Nsukka man.
2. Opening of UNN is akin to the former Soviet Union’s policy of Perestroika and Glasnot literally meaning “opening and freeing up”
Since UNN was opened for academic learning in 1960 and with the consistent influx of foreigners in search of the proverbial golden fleece, academic and non-academic jobs, it has opened up Nsukka for modern development and economic empowerment of Ndi Igbo Nsukka.
3. The quantum-leap into formal and tertiary Education acquisition by Nsukka people is directly dependent on the Opening of the University. Today Nsukka people, arguably are one of the most educated set of people east of the Niger nay the whole country boasting of world acclaimed Professors and scholars.
4. Economically, the institution has empowered and bettered the lots of thousands of the local indigenes. When the University was opened, hundreds of Nsukka people were employed to work in different departments in the Campus. Today, thousands of the local indigenes are still absorbed by the institution, thus making it the highest employer of labour in Nsukka area.
5. The establishment of UNN changed the value of land and property in Nsukka thereby making the local indigenes more economically viable and stable.
6. With the opening of the institution led to the establishment and opening of other institutions like Ogige modern market, good road infrastructures, good portable drinking water, good hospitals, high star hotels and suites, etc. This has turned Nsukka to cosmopolitan city.
Like we rightly noted earlier, the significance of establishing UNN cannot be digitally quantified or calculated. And the immortal truth is that, the University will continue to develop and empower the people of Igbo Nsukka till the end of time.
THE NEED FOR IMMORTALIZATION OF ZIK IN NSUKKA LAND
INDEED, the gospel truth is that there is basically nothing Igbo Nska People would do to immortalize and honour Zik, the founding father of modern Nsukka that would be considered enough or too much.. Just like a child can never adequately and wholly pay back its mother for the breast milk, it suckled, so also Igbo Nsukka can never sufficiently pay Zik back for the godly and immortal Love he had for Nsukka people.
In the regard of immortalizing Zik, we in IGBO NSUKKA UNITED FRONT intend to;
One; Be organizing a week long activities every November to mark and commemorate Zik’s birthday
Two; His birthday on 16th November will be marked as IGBO NSUKKA ZIK’S DAY as an annual event.
Three; His abode, ONUIYI HAVEN should be declared IGBO NSUKKA HERITAGE SITE as a historical monument open to Igbo Nsukka and the public for research and veneration.
Four; We, in IGBO NSUKKA UNITED FRONT to liaise and interface with the relevant institutions and authorities especially, the seven (7) Local Government Councils in Igbo Nsukka Geo-Cultural Zone for their Councils involvement in immortalizing Zik.
Five; Zik’s Chair for endowment should be instituted and established for the scholarship and research projects of Igbo Nsukka.
In conclusion therefore, we are bold and proud to proclaim that ZIK and the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) continue to be significant and synonymous with Igbo Nsukka ad infinitum.
©IGBO NSUKKA UNITED FRONT
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