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Zik was disappointed about Nigeria before his death – family reveals
What did Zik do during the Biafran civil war? When you go there, you will see that one of his poems inspired the Anthem of Biafra.
When Biafra started, he might not have supported them 100 per cent. Do you expect somebody that fought for the country’s independence to see a divide and support such? There is no way my father will like a Nigeria where the rate of illiteracy is increasing by the day.
Uwakwe is the son of the late Nigeria’s first President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. He talks about his father’s life and politics with OGBONNA CASMIR
Tell us more about yourself.
I am an Onitsha man, born and bred in Onuiyi, Nsukka. I am also an American-trained lawyer and called to the Nigerian Bar. I worked many years in Abuja with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and now, I am the Special Adviser to Governor of Enugu State on Special Duties.
I am a father of five and a husband of a wonderful woman. I am a sports lover and an Arsenal fan. I am an easygoing person. I love making friends and enjoying life.
Is any of your siblings in politics?
None is in politics. Though some tried to run for elective offices; they were not successful. The only thing close to political office is one of my elder brothers who was in the foreign services and later became an ambassador. I don’t think you can actually call that politics. I can say I am the first person to have delved into politics even though I am the last born.
But I will say that in 1991 when I was going to the university, my father advised me to do Political Science or Law, but I refused. I told him that I would want to be a doctor; but you can see I ended up being a lawyer. Maybe if I had taken his advice and studied political science, one of us would have been interested in the career long ago but none of us did.
What fond memories with your father can you recall while growing up?
Wonderful memories! We are very lucky that when we were growing up it was about the time he was not as busy as he used to be in the 70s. He was always around. Even when he was busy, he would always make sure we ate together – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Through that, he would have an opportunity to tell us stories about when he moved a motion in parliament, when he said what he said, and funnily enough, my father used to remember a lot of things he said in the 50s and 60s.
Your father was reportedly born in Zungeru, Niger State. Have you visited his birthplace?
I have not been to Zungeru, though I have heard a lot about it. I have been invited several times by some of my friends that come from there and also in Niger State. Going there (Zungeru) – the place he was born – is going to be inspirational.
How would you describe your father’s politics considering the fact that the nation’s political space was peopled by tested politicians during his time?
From our interactions and things we did, my father’s main focus was always people and the country – Nigeria at that point. One of the things he was fighting for was Nigeria’s freedom. It didn’t really matter to him who was around then; all he knew and the goal was to fight for Nigeria’s independence. At earlier stages, there were principles he had about African renaissance which became a national one in ‘Zikism’.
How did he like to relax?
He relaxed by reading newspapers and talking in our compound in Onuiyi, but mostly talking and reflecting on the past. He could eat maybe for 30 minutes, and talk for two hours. Even me that he told the story cannot recall everything he told me but he remembered all he said. He liked to talk to people so they would know what happened in the past and learn from it. That was basically how he relaxed but of course when we were a bit younger, we used to take a drive from Onuiyi to Opanda in Uzo-Uwani where he had land (at Pandorosa). We used to go there to appreciate nature.
That is the reasons while he picked Nsukka for a university. That area is flat, breezy – you just see trees and it is somewhere you can really go and think and get ideas. That is basically how he relaxed.
Did you ever follow him anywhere for bonding?
We used to go to some events with him. One of the main ones we went with him was in 1983 during electioneering. I don’t know if it was because we told him we wanted to or he felt we should, but we went around with him in the now present South-East geopolitical zone, especially Imo State. We went on campaign with him and of course, as kids, we were not sure if we really understood what was going on, but we knew that our father was involved in something that he had interest in and that he had many people that liked him.
When we went there, he would sit on the arms of the chair. We talked; we met all the big politicians such as Sam Mbakwe, Paul Unongo, Jim Nwobodo and many of them that were in the Nigeria’s Peoples Party then. It was a way to bond, and also when he went to other events he was invited to.
I remember in Enugu when he was invited to meet Nelson Mandela, we accompanied him. We also came with him to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana. When he started getting older, we were always with him whenever he travelled and of course, we enjoyed the excitement that our father was a popular man, Zik of Africa. We wanted to also enjoy the limelight with him; so we took time to bond with him.
What was his favourite food?
His favourite food, like a typical Onitsha man, was ‘inri oka’ i.e, corn meal and okra soup.
What kind of father was he?
He was a wonderful man. I will say many things about him not known to the world. As a politician and government official (but we were lucky), we felt that God just blessed us to know him as a father. Like I said, he had more time when I was born in the late 70s; so, he spent lots of time with us and I can say that we saw him more as a father than as a politician.
He was at home with us every day. In fact, at some point, my classmates in primary and secondary schools did not believe that I was seeing my father every day. They said no, how could you be seeing Zik of Africa every day?
On every November 16 – his birthday, he would always celebrate it with his whole family. We were not taught to be elitist; everybody was a human being. Even those that worked for us – guards, gatemen, drivers, my diver’s children – I grew up with them and we are friends till today. My father just made sure that we had good childhood.
What values did you learn from him?
I learnt humility, being compassionate and patriotism. Till date, any time I hear a national anthem, chills still run down my spine. It is like after prayer to God, the national anthem is the next and it is because of how my father appreciated things. We watched him as a role model – the things he was doing. The national anthem was one of them. Sometimes, we would be watching the television and hear the national anthem.
My father would stand up and, of course, who are we not to stand up if Zik of Africa stood up. I went to school in the US. I spent 12 years there and I can tell you that every day in the US, I usually thought about when I would return home to see what I could contribute to make Nigeria better.
How does his name open doors for you when people know you are his child?
His name has opened many doors for me. My father’s name is not just opening doors, it has opened doors widely. At a point in my life, I told people that my name was Uwakwe because I knew that once I mention my last name, the whole discussion would change and we might decide to start talking about my father or about the past. His name is a door opener but it is also one that puts pressure on one. If the door opens, one must not work in there and misbehave, one has to also show that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
What type of music did he listen to?
Well, my father was an old school person. He listened to Jazz and it affected us too because that was what we listened to in the house. Even, we listened to bongo music. We were always watching old movies – Jesus Christ Superstar, the Roman Empire. I knew more about the Roman Empire than I knew of anything else because my father had all those movies of the Roman Empire about Jesus Christ.
What did he tell you about Nigeria and its style of leadership?
I will say that Nigeria was his all and all whenever he talked politics. Everything he talked about was about Nigeria – the way forward, how things could be better – and of course, about Nigerians, what was the best for Nigerians. He always believed that the best was what Nigerians deserved and that was why he put his life on the line to get independence.
And after that, he still believed there was much potential in Nigeria. He might be crying now (because before he died, in some discussions we had with him), one could sense disappointment, even though he did not say it to us. One could sense that he was disappointed about how things were going before he died.
How close were you to your father?
Very close. We were with him regularly. Some people used to say we were the retirement children even though he still came out of retirement and entered politics but basically we were with him all the times. I would see him in the morning. I would go to school, return and see him. If I wanted to go out, I would see him and of course, he made life fun for us.
Your father was known both within and outside the country. How do you and other family members view him?
Apart from the fact that we are his children, we are also his admirers and he is our role model. I can say he was my mentor. God gave me one package that covered everything. Sometimes, one has a father and a role model and mentor. But in my case, I had everything in one and I had him in the same house with me.
I went to Tanzania for training and there is a street named after him there. In the US, when I went to Lincoln, the oldest building in Lincoln is named after my father and Kwame Nkrumah (Azikiwe-Nkrumah hall). One of my professors in Law School, University of Bolton, was an admirer of my father. Immediately I started school there and he saw my name, he looked for me and when he saw me, he said to me, ‘Your father was a good man.’ He said he was going to make sure that I finished law school and got all the needed knowledge to follow in my father’s footsteps.
What stage is his mausoleum being built by the Federal Government?
It has been completed and inaugurated. It was inaugurated a couple of months ago by President Muhammadu Buhari. It has yet to take off; the structures are there but at present, all the items were kept waiting for the mausoleum. The ministry of works approached us to know the items that we would give them – his personal belongings, awards, books and other things – to put there.
It is ready. Of course, they are also planning on the administration – how to run the place, who will be on the board of governors or council and who will run it.
The planning stage is ongoing but the structure itself is completed. We are very happy because if you went there since my father died in 1996, you would cry. I used to cry sometimes if I went there and I wondered that the man that loved Nigeria so much and they allowed where he was buried to be a construction site. He died in 1996 and the mausoleum was inaugurated in 2018.
How do you feel that your father’s contributions to the country have been acknowledged with the monuments named after him?
Anytime I see monument named after my father or hear of any street named after him, I am overjoyed. When I entered the airport, of course, people acknowledged me, not because of who I am, but because of him (Azikiwe). When I got to the Enugu stadium, I was inspired that it was named after him. Whenever I go to places and I see his name, it inspires me. But you know it also makes it difficult for me – every father wants his child to be greater than him.
I remember when they put his picture on the Nigerian currency (N500 note), I was still in the US. I came to Nigeria, took one N500 note, and returned to the US and showed to my friends. That one’s father’s face is on his country’s currency is a great privilege which I enjoy.
I feel great because when I was younger, I used the N500 note to show people the kind of person my father was. I am happy and sometimes when I see people with N500 note, I would jokingly ask them, ‘What are you doing with my father’s picture? Give me my father’s picture or money’.
Which of your father’s books on social issues and Nigerian project have you read and what did it tell you about his thoughts on Nigeria?
I have read lots of them but I have not completed all of them. The only one I have completed is his ‘Odyssey’ about his lives and I forced myself to read it to know what my father went through because when people see the accolades he gets now, they don’t know what he went through to get to that point.
He would always tell us that he was a son of a clerk – son of a poor man, but that did not hinder him. He fought to be where he got to and that while you read his Odyssey, you see where he talked about how he worked as a potato piler and a car cleaner. The funniest one that we used to laugh at then was when he told us he was also a boxer.
What was his favourite drink?
There was a particular drink, Benedictine; it is sweet liquor, and there is another one, Benedictine and Brandy (B&B) mixed. He never lacked that bottle and everybody that knew him, knew it was his favourite drink. Anytime he came back from a trip, he would bring bottles of the drink home.
How did your father feel being the ceremonial President in the First Republic as the Prime Minister was then seen as being in charge of government?
You know it was very clear he didn’t care. My father was not someone of position of benefit; his selfless aim was for Nigeria to be independent. There is a video clip where he told them “I don’t care who becomes the prime minister, whether myself, Awolowo, Sardauna or anybody.” For him, it did not matter whether he was ceremonial President or not; let Nigeria tastes freedom. That was what mattered to him.
It is believed that some Igbo are of the belief that your father didn’t support the Biafran cause? How would you react to this?
What did Zik do during the Biafran civil war? When you go there, you will see that one of his poems inspired the Anthem of Biafra.
When Biafra started, he might not have supported them 100 per cent. Do you expect somebody that fought for the country’s independence to see a divide and support such? Nobody in his right mind that felt the way he felt would want such a thing. Of course, initially, he was skeptical about it, but when it was obvious that there was Biafra, who was the spokesperson for Biafra? He was the one.
He was the one travelling around the whole world to get support. He was the one that was meeting leaders to get them to support the Biafran cause. He was also an adviser to Odumegwu Ojukwu for a long time.
Tell us more about your father that many Nigerians do not know.
There are things that people do not know; he did not turn into a butterfly and disappear. He never fought with mermaid. He never took mermaid and put it in a bottle. I used to tell him when I returned from school because we used to call him ‘the eyes’. His title in Onitsha was Owalla Anya. One day, I took the anya and called him the Eyes.
Would you say today’s Nigeria is what your father dreamt and fought for?
If I say that, I will be lying. There is no way my father will want a Nigeria where people are killed every day. There is no way my father will like a Nigeria where the rate of illiteracy is increasing by the day.
There is no way my father will like a Nigeria where the quality of education is reducing every day. There is no way my father will like a country where corruption exists and is seen as a norm, not that actions are not being taken, but actions are not being taken swiftly.
There is no way my father will like a Nigeria where there is division according to tribes and religion. God has put us together. I am not one that thinks about division or anything. Nigeria has much potential that if we can come together and think about Nigeria first before thinking about ourselves, we get the Nigeria our founding fathers fought for.