By OBINNA EZUGWU
On December 10, literary giant, publisher and pro-democracy activist, Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, who answered the call of heaven on February 1 after 78 years of great strides, was finally committed to mother earth at his Ajalli hometown of Anambra State, in a ceremony that marked the end of an era.
A true intellectual giant, fearless warrior and politician of rare breed, Nwankwo in his lifetime, trod Nigeria’s literary and political space like a colossus. A prolific writer and brilliant historian, he raised a generation of conscious activists, historians and nationalists.
“He was a tireless fighter on the side of truth and justice, until he answered the call from heaven, and now takes a well-deserved rest,” said Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor in a tribute to the departed champion.
“As an avid reader and historian, I am indebted to Arthur Nwankwo for his efforts in documenting very important epochs in our history, writing over 20 books and publishing the works of many others, and helping people like myself have a more nuanced understanding of where we are coming from, and our collective aspirations for a greater Nigeria.”
Nwankwo was indeed the best of many things; a jack of all trades and master of all. As an activist, he proved to be of the most fearless kind. Ikeogu (the warrior) as he was fondly called, stood up for his Igbo people in their most trying times, fighting tirelessly for justice and equity for the Igbo like the true warrior.
But his ultimate goal remained the enthronement of a just and progressive society, and he devoted much of his energy marshalling ideas on how to renegotiate the basis of the Nigerian union in a ways that works for all.
His stance for justice was a matter of principle. And he fought against injustice wherever it occurred. When the June 12 1993 electoral mandate of late Chief MKO Abiola was denied him, Ikeogu fought relentlessly to ensure that justice prevailed, joining forces with the likes of the late Gani Fawehinmi, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Julius Ihonvbere and other pro democracy heroes, to constitute a thorn on the flesh of Nigeria’s military dictatorship, even at the risk incarceration and death.
As Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and vice-chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) Nwankwo was a key figure of the June 12 struggle, leading the Eastern flank in the fight to reclaim the electoral mandate of late Chief MKO Abiola.
He was one of the NADECO delegates to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), in London, in 1997. And following his CMAG testimony he was a guest of U.S. Government and numerous U.S. based International Agencies.
When prominent black leaders wrote to Bill Clinton to support the pro-democracy movements in Nigeria and apply more pressure on the Gen. Sani Abacha dictatorship, Nwankwo was the only non-African-American among the 23 honored to sign the letter.
His tenacious opposition to the military dictatorship would earn him a place in the gulag on June 3, 1998. He was arrested and would remain in detention four weeks after Abacha died.
But it was not the first time he spent time in detention, even as his activism began long before the 90s. When he first ventured into politics in the Second Republic (1979–1983), he typically chose to play politics of principle, shunning the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), led by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, which was dominant in the East, to join forces with the more progressive Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), led by Mallam Aminu Kano.
His decision would cost him the old Anambra State governorship seat, which he lost to Jim Nwobodo. But he didn’t relent in his quest for an orderly society. And subsequently took up the role of active opposition, deploying his writing and grassroots mobilisation skills to serve as a check to the government of the day.
His quest to hold government to account would earn him his first visit to prison. He was convicted of sedition in 1982 and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour and N50 fine for his book “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State”.
But the conviction was later quashed by an Appeal Court which acquitted and discharged him of all charges. A Supreme Court investigation later resulted in the sacking of Justice Emmanuel Araka, Francis O. Nwokedi and the Court Registrar, who participated in the lower court ruling.
Prior to the Third Republic (the 1992-1993 unsuccessful attempt to restore Nigeria to democracy as initiated by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida), Nwankwo initiated a public discourse with the publication of Cimilicy, a new form of government for Nigeria. He promoted a system of government that would ensure social and economic growth and cohesiveness in the public sphere.
Ideas within the thesis comprise formal acceptance and incorporation of positive social developments policies that had been cultivated by civilian politicians such as mass mobilization into the military and the incorporation of action orientated virtues of previous military rulers into civilian life to reach a balance that ensures stability in the public sphere.
The failure of the Third Republic and the subsequent emergence of Abacha, led him to form the EMU, through which he linked up with NADECO to fight for democracy.
As a writer, Nwankwo belonged to the elite class of African writers. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Chinua Achebe with more than 20 books to his name. He gained prominence within the literary community as part of a young group of post-Biafra War writers who wrote about their experience during the War in the early 70s, and would go on to cement his name as one of the celebrated authors in the country and the continent.
But his writing began during the Biafra war, when in 1969, in the thick of the hostilities, he co-authored a book, Biafra: The Making of a Nation’, documenting the role of the Igbo in Nigeria. It remains one of the best books on the war yet.
He would subsequently write another book on the subject: ‘Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra,’ before going on to write several other titles, including ‘The Stolen Billions – 1999, ‘The Political Transition and the Future of Democracy’ – 1993, ‘The Igbo nation and the Nigerian state- 1999,’ ‘The Igbo leadership and the future of Nigeria- 1985′ among others.
As a publisher, he blazed a trail, emerging arguably the most accomplished publisher in Sub-Sahara Africa. He started a career in publishing after the war ended when he co-founded, Nwamife Publishers with Samuel Ifejika, enjoying the support and patronage of writers such as Flora Nwapa and Achebe.
Nwamife published its first book in 1971, a compilation of stories written by various authors of Igbo extraction. The company would go on to publish many critically acclaimed works by authors such as Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Kalu Uka, Meki Nzewi, Maj. Gen. Mamman J. Vatsa, Nwapa, Mokwugo Okoye, and many other public figures and academics.
In 1977, he moved on to establish Fourth Dimension Publishers in Enugu, as part of his national network of engineering and construction operations under the group name of Jo Arts.
Through his other businesses, Nwankwo continued to fund Fourth Dimension until it became self-sustaining, going on to become one of the biggest publishing companies on the continent, with more than 1,500 titles.
“Nwankwo made erudite scholars in this part of the world,” said Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission. “He got their research works published and they became professor. He was a man of the people.
“He established one of the foremost indigenous publishing companies, not only in this part of the country, but all over Nigeria and Africa. He published, within the period, over 1,500 titles of which my own books were included.”
Nwankwo remained active contributor to the political discourse, suggesting ways to move the country on the right path until death called on February 1’ 2020. He was finally committed to mother earth on December 10. He would be eternally remembered for his invaluable contribution to the good of mankind and the body of knowledge in Nigeria and beyond.