By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
It is hard to accept the reality of the passing of Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, one of Nigeria’s foremost pro-democracy and human rights avatars. The notion that we have come to the end of his struggles and political activism is galling.
Dr. Arthur Nwankwo was a writer, publisher and political activist, radical intellectual, neo marxist synthesizer and in many mind one of Africa’s intellectuals closest in thoughts and ideas to the Italian Antonio Gramsci in the sweep and depth of his understanding of the conditions of oppression, the psychology of the oppressors and sufferings of the downtrodden.
He shared so many similarities with his grounded forerunners such as Franz Fanon, Walter Rodney and Amilcar Cabral in the hermeneutics of social consciousness. He was 78 years old when he passed on.
It will be really hard to write the modern history of contemporary Nigeria without referencing the immense contribution of this rare Nigerian scholar and businessman who had all the opportunity to be wealthy but shunned epicurean, sybaritic culture of the leisure class but rather deplored his modest resources to further and fund the liberation of Nigeria from the clutches of internal neocolonialism.
At the Ahmadu Bello University in early 90s, Dr. Fulata had introduced us to his book: Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra, the shattering of revisionist history of many writers implicit in Nwankwo’s powerful presentation which spurred this writer to explore his other writing.
Arthur Nwankwo’s forceful emergence on the Nigerian public scene was signaled with the publication of his ground-breaking polemic on the Nigerian -Biafran war, titled Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra. Together with Biafra: The Making of a Nation, Nigeria: My People Suffer and other seminal materials on the Igbo question in the Nigerian State he constructed a coherent thesis of a people caught between the haunting dialectics of identity-formation and social becoming in a plural nation-state, and problematised the strategic framework with which they must negotiate and balance the complexities of structural and institutional disequilibria in an unfair and unjust social formation that has turned his people into de-centred historical objects.
In a series of tributes, many Nigerians have saluted his unparalleled courage, his giant standing in the country’s pantheon of true patriots and his moral stature that rose above primordial sentiments. We can only find such example in his compatriot such as Gani Fawehinmi.
Kanayo Esinulo, in a tribute said: “Dr. Nwankwo fought battles for our people and won many. He never ever detracted from values that he cherished. Ndigbo will miss him. I will miss him, so much.”
Nwankwo, was among top public intellectuals that defined and nurtured public discourse, fine-turning the core of national questions and the challenge of nationhood for the past forty years. His Fourth Dimension Publishing House was a natural hatchery for ideas that crystsllised public consciousness in a series of titles close to two thousand – his own and others.
He grew from humble beginnings to become one of Nigeria’s foremost authors, publishers, historians and political commentators. Fourth Dimension Publishing Company was the largest publishing company in sub-Saharan Africa with over 1,500 titles. He authored over 27 books and numerous articles.
Many Nigerians would still remember his sacrifices for the betterment of the country. He was convicted of sedition during 2nd Republic (1982) and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour and 50 naira fine for his book, “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State”. This conviction was later quashed by an Appeal Court acquitting and discharging him of all charges. A Supreme Court investigation later resulted in the sacking of Justices Emmanuel Araka, Francis O. Nwokedi and the Court Registrar, who participated in the lower court ruling.
This case is now a locus classicus in Nigeria’s legal and judicial system and resulted in sedition being expunged from Nigeria’s Criminal Law.
As a politician, he was less successful and the reason is clear. His politics stood in contradiction to the aggrandizing materialism of Nigerian politicians, thus he was a moral giant in the land of Lilliputians. As a politician, Dr. Nwankwo unsuccessfully ran for the Governorship in 1983 on the platform of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).
During the Babangida transition programme, his group, the Liberal Convention was not registered so he opted not to join any of the military created parties – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). He was a leading member of the unregistered People Progressive Party (PPP), an alliance comprising the Eastern Mandate Union/Afenifere/Movement of National Reformation and all the progressive forces in the South and Middle Belt.
Dr Nwankwo was the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) vice Chairman, and one of the NADECO delegates to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (C.M.A.G), in London, in 1997.
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 Nigeria’s dictator, Dr. Nwankwo was the only non-African-American among the 23 honored to sign the letter.
As a result of his tenacious opposition to the military dictatorship he was arrested on June 3, I998 and was released four weeks later after the death of the military dictator, Gen. Sani Ababcha.
Owei Lakemfa, journalist, labour activist, civil rights advocate said in a tribute to Nwankwo: “A giant in a country of political Lilliputians, a fearless and unconquerable general of the masses and unmatchable intellectual gladiator, Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo on February 1, 2020, moved on to other battle fields, head unbowed and faith in the African people, unshaken. The struggle continues; a people united, can never be defeated
Nwankwo was born on August 19, 1942, in Ajali, Anambra state, located in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. He grew from humble beginnings to become one of Nigeria’s foremost authors, publishers, historians and political commentators.
He had a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Eastern Mennonite University, Harrissonburg, Virginia; Master of Arts from Deuquesne University in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and D.Lit (honoris causa) from Shaw University in Raleigh North Carolina. Nwankwo also has a Howard connection – he attended summer schools at Howard between 1963 and 1967.