By Ogbuagu ANIKWE
Updated: Saturday 29 February 2020, 13.53p.m.
Nigerian author, nationalist and maverick politician, Chief Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, has passed on, aged 80. He transited today, Saturday 1 February 2020, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) in Enugu State where he has been receiving medical attention for an undisclosed protracted ailment.
His younger brother, Ejiofor Benjack Nwankwo, confirmed the sad development to eMetro News a while ago and also informed us that his brother’s remains have been successfully transferred to the morgue of the Eastern Nigeria Medical Centre at Uwani Enugu, where it will remain until arrangements are concluded for the interment.
“My biggest wish is to see a renegotiated Nigeria where there is justice and equality for all, a Nigeria where you can work hard, knowing that (this) is all you require to be successful.”Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo
Birth & Education
Born in Ajalli, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra on 19 August 1942, Agwuncha Nwankwo finished his primary and secondary education in Nigeria before he travelled to the United States for his university education.
He attended Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia (1966) and Duquesne University, Pittsburg Pennsylvania (1967) where he obtained a bachelor and a master’s degree respectively.
At the outbreak of the Nigeria Civil War in 1967, young Arthur was working at Gulf Oil Corporation headquarters in Pittsburg as a consultant for Nigeria, but he quickly switched to the Propaganda Directorate of the defunct Republic of Biafra, from where he later served as editor of Biafra Newsletter.
At the end of the War in 1970, Nwankwo teamed up with late celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe and other celebrated Igbo professionals and literary giants to found the first major indigenous publishing effort in Eastern Nigeria – Nwamife Publishers – where he served as its pioneer chief executive between 1970 and 1976.
Other members of the team included Flora Nwapa, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Gordy Tabansi, Sameul Ifejika, and Dr. Alex Ekwueme as chairman.
Nwamife played a pivotal role in bringing to fame such acclaimed writers as Kalu Uka, Meki Nzewi, Alex Ekwueme, Flora Nwapa, Mokwugo Okoye, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Maj. Gen. Mamman J. Vatsa, and Anezi Okoro, among others. Chudi Offordile suggested in his “The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria” that Achebe felt comfortable with Nwankwo as pioneer Managing Director of Nwamife not only because of Arthur’s clear commitment to justice for Igbo people but also his noticeable business sense and entrepreneurial streak.
Achebe was also said to have been impressed at the speed with which Arthur produced a short history of Biafra even before the War ended (Biafra: The Making of a Nation, 1969).
By 1977, however, some of the founders had moved on to other things and it was left for Arthur and his younger brother, Victor, to found a successor publishing company called Fourth Dimension Publishers with support and guidance from Achebe.
The success of Fourth Dimension is all the more phenomenal in the difficult publishing challenges in Nigeria. In a note to the Washington Post in 1979, Chinua Achebe had itemized these challenges as “inadequate capital, lack of trained manpower, ineffective distribution, and poor performance by printers.” Achebe wrote in the newspaper that Nigerian publishers were having a rough time “in their competition with British publishers who have continued to dominate the market here. He however stated that Nigerian publishers were getting stronger and “more influential as the years roll by.
“They are tackling their financial problems with vigor and optimism. Instead of allowing themselves to be bought over by foreign publishers, some of them have developed other businesses from which they fund their publishing companies.” He disclosed that Fourth Dimension was able to survive because it was part of a national network of engineering and construction operations directed by Nwankwo, under the group name of Jo Arts. “The publishing company will continue to be funded by Jo Arts until it becomes self-sustaining,” Achebe said.
It would be correct to say that the memory of Biafra and the discourse on the Igbo Question in Nigeria Politics were forced back into national consciousness through three major alternative accounts of the Nigerian Civil War published by Fourth Dimension.
- The Biafran Revolution and the Nigerian Civil War (1980), by Gen. Alexander Madiebo, who was Chief of Army Staff of the Biafran Army;
- No Place to Hide (1985) by Bernard Odogwu, the Biafran Director of Military Intelligence; and
- Requiem Biafra (1986), by Col. Joe Achuzia, the dreaded and most powerful field commander in the Biafran Army.
In between these publications, Achebe had sweetened the deal with his widely and critically acclaimed pamphlet, “The Trouble with Nigeria (1983)” and suddenly, through Nwankwo’s calculated steering of Fourth Dimension, the memory of Biafra and the notion of injustice against Igbos were fully rekindled in the consciousness of the Nigerian intelligentsia.
These publishing efforts eventually coincided with the advent of Second Republic Politics in 1978. Both Achebe and Nwankwo made the decision to enter full time politics but significantly bolted away from the Igbo mainstream party of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe – the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) – to join the Malam Aminu Kano-led Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).
In this position, he was an active opposition politician in the old Anambra State during the Second Republic (1979-1983). Although he ran but lost the governorship election on the platform of the PRP, he was largely effective in the role of a watchdog, using all his skills as an author and a pamphleteer to not only heckle Zik’s NPP but to also question the managerial capacity of the (old) Anambra Governor, Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo. The two books he authored in 1983 to demonstrate how poor he perceived Nwobodo to be at governance – “How Jim Nwobodo Governs Anambra State,” and “Corruption in Anambra State” – landed him in court for sedition.
Arthur was convicted and jailed at the lower court, but he however quickly regained his freedom on appeal, after which he also wrote about the experience in another book. “Justice (Sedition Charge, Imprisonment and Acquittal of Chief Arthur Nwankwo) in 1986. His conviction was reviewed by the Supreme Court and triggered judicial administrative processes that led not only to the ouster of the State Chief Judge and the Court Registrar but also triggered the eventual removal of Sedition from Nigeria’s Criminal Law.
In the Babangida transition to civil rule arrangement, his party, the Liberal Convention, was not registered. He refused to join the two parties created by Babangida – the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention – but rather stayed with the unregistered Peoples Progressive Party which was floated by the Eastern Mandate Union, Afenifere, Movement of National Reformation and other “progressives” in Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. His implacable opposition to the dictatorship of late Gen. Sanni Abacha – Babangida’s successor – led to his arrest and detention on 3 June 1998. Fortuitously, Abacha died four weeks later and Nwankwo regained his freedom.
When the military allowed democracy to start off again in 1998, Nwankwo, ever the maverick once again disdained the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), where majority of top Igbo politicians were massed, to team up with the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to fight what was turning out to be a dominant PDP. He did not have a choice, considering that he was the Vice Chair of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which waged a long, bloody, and relentless battle to oust the late General Sanni Abacha and restore the mandate given to Chief MKO Abiola – and to return the country to civil rule when MKO unfortunately died. Majority members of NADECO had found a home in the Alliance for Democracy, one of the grandmothers of today’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
A Prodigious Author and Nationalist
A prodigious author, all of his works were labours of love for his beloved Ndigbo and for Nigeria, with a few drawing intersections between them.
More than 65 percent of his books centered on his reflections on Nigeria and the things he thought rulers of the nation ought to do to shoo the country on the path of greatness.
On his 74th birthday, he took to his Facebook Page to summarize his wish for his country:
“My biggest wish is to see a renegotiated Nigeria where there is justice and equality for all, a Nigeria where you can work hard, knowing that (this) is all you require to be successful.”
Arthur who is the life chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (a pressure pressure group of south-east and south-south leaders) holds the traditional title of Ikeogu I of Ajalli, his hometown.
Arthur authored more than 20 books in his lifetime, including the following:
- Biafra: The Making of a Nation, 1969
- Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra, 1972
- Nigeria: My People, My Vision, 1980
- Can Nigeria Survive, 1981
- Nigeria: After Oil, What Next?, 1982
- How Jim Nwobodo Governs Anambra State, 1983
- Corruption in Anambra State, 1983
- Civilianised Soldiers: Army-Civilian Government for Nigeria, 1984
- National Consciousness for Nigeria, 1985
- The Igbo Leadership and the Future of Nigeria, 1985
- Nigeria: Development Strategy for the People’s Economy, 1986
- Justice (Sedition Charge, Imprisonment and Acquittal of Chief Arthur Nwankwo), 1986
- Arthur Nwankwo: Thoughts on Nigeria, 1986
- Military Option to Democracy: Class, Power and Violence in Nigerian Politics, 1987
- The Power Dynamics of Nigeria Politics, 1988
- Nigeria: The Political Transition and the Future of Democracy, 1993
- Nigeria: The Stolen Billions, 1999
- The Igbo Nation and the Nigerian State, 1999.
He married former Miss Eunice Medi in 1976 and they are survived by a son and a daughter.