The Right Honorable Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe actually implicitly cursed Nigerian politicians and not Okadigbo. For the records, it began in 1979 and attained a frightening crescendo during the 1983 presidential campaigns. Remember in ”79, Zik’s re-entry into politics destabilized the planned coronation of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Naturally, the Western Nigeria dominated press did not like the idea. Nnamdi Azikiwe was once again going to be an Achilles hill to the Ikenne Chief’s openly nursed ambition of ruling Nigeria. So like a locust, they descended on Nnamdi Azikiwe and unabashedly began tearing his reputation down. If only they could as Zik later on put it destroy the “soi distant Zik myth” (honestly as I write I still do not know what soi distant means).
It was Dele Barnes Giwa of blessed memory who featured more prominently than any other writer from the west in lampooning the Great Zik of Africa. He used the Sunday Concord which he then edited as a platform and a hiding ground from where he nibbled away at Nnamdi Azikiwe’s reputation. In an article that appeared in the Sunday Concord one day like that in the Summer of 1980, he told Nigerians how Nnamdi Azikiwe did not after all possess a Ph.D. He tried all he could to bring Nnamdi Azikiwe to the same educational status if not inferior to Chief Awolowo. He called on Nigerians to address Zik with no honorifics. “The man is simply a Mister” Dele Giwa insinuated.
Then in 1981, after his mentor, financier and publisher had joined the National Party of Nigeria, Dele Giwa published on the front pages of the Sunday Concord, private correspondences between the two remaining titans of Nigerian politics – Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe and Jeremaih Obafemi Awolowo. The contents of the letter in which the two individuals had pledged to sink their differences and work for the common goal of every Nigerian, to say the least, was embarrassing. Many watchers of Nigeria’s political history believe that the publication of those private mails so dampened the Morales of those two men that they never made any more efforts to unite Ndiigbo and Ndi Yoruba till they died.
Then came the 1983 campaigns when Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme and Christian Onoh and Chuba Okadigbo and Emeka Ojukwu and Professor Odenigwe and Bishop Eyitine wanted to win Anambra State for the NPN for two reasons. First, because Enugu was the seat of power of former Eastern Nigerian, the grand design of winning other former regional headquarters to give the NPN a true national look was in play. Remember this design was achieved when Bola Ige lost in Ibadan and Balarabe Musa lost in Kaduna and Jim Nwobodo, in Enugu, lost.
The second reason was the price the NPN put on Anambra State.. How on earth could Alex Ekwueme be the Vice President of Nigeria when his state is controlled by another party – Nnamdi Azikiwe’s party – the Nigerian Peoples’ Party (NPP). But to remove James Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, they had to tear down his mentor – Nnamdi Azikiwe. In Igbo poltical circles then and may be even now, it was believed that it was Zik that anointed Jim Nwobodo and that if Zik’s esteem could be brought down to mere mortal, perhaps those who voted for Nwobodo because of Zik’s myth could think twice next election time around.
And that was how the attack on Nnamdi Azikiwe by his own people took a new laughable height. Decency and caution were thrown overboard. Young journalists and commentators who were young enough to be Zik’s great-grand-children were deployed to antagonize Zik. They called his names. Grand old man. Okenye nagwo ofe (an adult that does unprintable things). Igbo cartoonists did not spare him either. They made huge jokes of his age and asked him to quit the stage.
Undaunted, Zik and his NPP soldiered on in that campaigns and made in-roads into the North particularly in states like Niger – where he was born, Plateau, Benue and Kano. It was in Kano, the heart of Northern Nigeria, where NPP’s Rimi was spreading the gospel of Change 83 that the northern political bloc became literarily worried. The Talakwas were embracing the gospel not primarily because of Nnamdi Azikiwe but because of Abubakar Rimi’s impact. Zik had to be checked otherwise, his new gospel of change championed by Rimi in the north may be too hot to handle. How dare the talakawas in this land of great oligarchs. From the northern plank therefore, the New Nigerian Newspaper went on to the offensive trying tirelessly to remove whatever myth that was left from the attacks of paid Nigerian journalists.
It was after the elections of 1983 was over and the NPN achieved their now historic landslide that Zik addressed the nation in his now famous treatise adroitly titled: History will vindicate the just. In the speech Zik traced with figures, how the NPN had rigged the elections. He said:
“I am seventy-eight years, nine months, one week today and I thought that I should write and congratulate certain politicians on their inglorious and futile attempts to destroy the soi-distant Zik Myth. In spite of the New Nigeria, the NTA, the FRCN, et cetera, whose propensity for calumniating my reputation blatantly, has become pathological and incessant, and whose penchant for sycophancy in order to entrench unpopular governments is now an open secret, my head is bloody but unbowed…Since in their blind hatred of the NPP and their mad ambition to support those who cling to power irrespective of the unpopular will, they are determined to destroy the Zik Myth; to destabilize the NPP states (as, indeed, the present elections have almost succeeded in doing); to baffle voters who constitute the electorate of Nigeria; to bamboozle the people of Nigeria by manipulating the instruments of coercion for the security of the machinery of the ballot; to try to justify a one-party state in Nigeria wittingly or unwittingly; and these bigots profess belief in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God…. I am supremely convinced that almighty God will frustrate their knavery and ultimately expose their machinations and consign them to heap of forgotten tyrants. History will vindicate the just and God shall punish the wicked…..Finally, may I now recount the disputations of those who are using the print and electronic media to make mockery of old age. Here I kneel and pray to Almighty God, the creator of the universe – my maker, who knows why I was created and what is my destiny, to demonstrate to infidels and miscreants that they will not live to be old. And I trust that they will die unwept and unsung, like a flower that is plucked in its bloom, as an example of the vanity of human wishes and the futility of insulting old age….Veritably, it is unAfrican and inhuman to make mockery of old age, because Africans and all human beings pray to God to prolong their life span. Nevertheless, those Nigerian politicians who indulge in this abomination shall not live to be old…Amen, Amin. Ise. Ashe.”
A day after Zik delivered his speech, two newspapers – the Guardian and the Daily Times on their front pages reported Chuba Okadigbo’s response. He had bluntly referred to Zik’s speech as the Rantings of an Ant. No body should blame him. He was the Political adviser to Shehu Shagari. He and his master had just completed their fraudulent electoral conquest of Nigeria. They won in Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna and Akure. They had also won Calabar, Port Harcourt, Benin, Illorin, Minna, Kaduna, Sokoto and so on. Their party might now be appropriately addressed as a true National Party of Nigeria. If he ever denied making such comments, it may have been many many months, if not years later – After the damage had been done. It is on record that Zik did not react to Chuba’s comments nor did he put a curse on him. Can any body controvert this with facts? It is on record that when Zik’s wife Flora Ogbenyealu Azikiwe died some time in 1983 Zik’s children who are in the same age bracket with Chuba dared him to come shed crocodile tears. Okadigbo respectfully kept his distance, very unrepentant, flamboyant, the hatchet man, the carrier of political bag for the North and the ambitious radical who climbed to fame by denigrating the soi-distant ZIK MYTH.
Footnote: It is on record that in 1985 after Babangida came to power, Zik stopped over at Dodan Barracks from one of his numerous overseas trips. At Dodan Barracks he uncursed Nigeria. I know he meant it because he loved Nigeria with all his hearts. He cautioned Nigerians to be patient. Suru lere, (be patient) he admonished. People who are not patient are likely to be greedy and subject to making irreparable mistakes. He wisecracked that only a mad man could challenge the military and get away with it. As he spoke, General Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida beamed with his trade mark smiles. Okadigbo cannot therefore be bearing the brunt of a collective curse put on the Nigerian populace, particularly, its politicians!
Author of the Book: “ZIK – the last campaigns” – Spectrum Ibadan