The passage of Uche Chukwumerije, comrade and senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, ended an era in national life; an era of real men who saw Nigeria born and worked pretty hard to bend her steps to greatness and unity. He was a man of unconquerable spirit and multidimensional parts, and inarguably an authentic Igbo leader and yet a consummate nationalist.
Many see this affirmation as contradictory, believing one can only be either a regionalist or a nationalist, and cannot combine the two. This misconception is one of the major reasons Nigeria has not advanced appreciably in national integration and in developing her brand of federalism into any workable format, leading to her taunting growth.
To understand Chukwumerije’s approach to nationalism, we need to put federalism in perspective. In federations, regions, states or whatever name they go by, make up a nation’s federating units and one cannot be really useful to the latter without being a proper member of the former. Uche Chukwumerije struck a difference by being a true champion of both. He gave both the Eastern Region and Nigeria his all by making such service so sublime, and now departing, left large footprints on the sands of time.
The toga, comrade, which he wore like second skin, came from his avowed commitment to the communist ideals as the surest paradigm for national development. He made his mark also in that school of thought and helped to nurture and advance its cause from the formative years of Nigeria to the present day.
A product of University of Ibadan, where he obtained a degree in Economics, Chukwumerije chose to pursue a career in Journalism. At the behest of his lecturer at the University of Ibadan, he changed his goal from joining the army to journalism. The teacher saw clearly that Chukwumerije would only be frustrated in the army, which had become a lumpen class of sorts at that time, and advised him to follow journalism, a career the teacher felt offered the platform for the expression of the communist ideals, which the young comrade held so dear.
It was during this period that the Biafra war broke out. Chukwumerije stayed put in Lagos, seeing no reason to vacate for the Eastern parts as most of his kinsmen had. Pogroms had already taken place twice in Northern Nigeria against the Igbos in reprisal to the ill-fated deaths of some northern leaders in the poorly executed coup of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and cohorts.
In the face of the clamour of war, Chukwumerije believed the unity of the country was still salvageable, until he was nearly killed in Lagos in an attack launched by those who were bent on balkanizing Nigeria. The comrade thus became a ‘reluctant rebel’ as he retreated eastwards and joined forces to protect his people, which culminated in what has come to be called Biafra (war).
Soon, all entreaties to forestall the Biafra war failed, including the Aburi Accord (between old Eastern Region led by Col. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (as he then was) on the one hand, and Nigerian Federal Government on the other, led by Col. Yakubu Gowon (as he then was). War broke out with all the odds stacked against the Biafran side. The Federal Government believed Biafra was a walkover and would be subdued in a matter of weeks, a gross error of judgment and fatal miscalculation, as the resilience of Biafrans soon proved.
Since the odds against Biafra were up to 3 to 1 (2 to 1 is almost certainly a short victory/defeat), for the Biafran war to last 30 odd months, there were obviously other deciding factors that kept the Biafran spirit and its chances alive, and boosted the moral of the soldiers to fight on to the bitter end. One of such factors was propaganda, in which Chukwumerije played a central role.
In the ’50s and ’60s, Chukwumerije followed revolutionary struggles around the globe, including those in pre-Independent Africa, the Tamil Tigers in Finland and of course the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He was vast in the role propaganda played in wars and employed and deployed it to the Biafran cause so efficaciously that it kept Biafra alive for three solid years!
The Biafra propaganda machinery was anchored by people like Uche Chukwumerije, Dr Ifegwu Eke and the popular NewsTalk presenter, Okonkon Ndem. These men created a reality that was not – an illusion that sustained Biafra. Though Biafra later lost the war, they never lost their name nor disgraced. Thus South East emerged from the Biafra war stronger, more united, more determined. Apart from the inimitable Emeka Ojukwu who led the Biafra resistance, and some indomitable field commanders, Chukwumerije and the Biafran propaganda machine followed a close second in ensuring the survival of the Igbo Race in the bitter Nigerian Civil War.
After the Civil War, Uche Chukwuerije founded and edited Afriscope, a pan Nigerian and African magazine, which focused on national development and pan Africanism. The magazine flourished for over a decade – from 1971 to 1983 – when the gadfly veered off into politics.
The politics of the ‘80s still haboured sufficient ideological hues and further confirmed Chukwumerije in the left of the ideological divide. One could see that of all the Political Parties found in the fray then, only Aminu Kano’s Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) had the socialist inclination and naturally attracted the radical minds across the country, including Uche Chukwumerije, Chinua Achebe, among others. National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was obviously the conservative cast, while Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was a regional party with hints of progressivism and only pretension to nationalism. NPP was also abridged in its nationalism and progressivism, with mere footholds in the north Central (Plateau) and North West (Kano after Aminu Kano) and heavy concentration and preponderance in the South East with Nnamdi Azikiwe as its arrowhead.
Uche Chukwumerije pitching his tent with Aminu Kano clearly showed he was at home with the PRP’s socialist bent. Though PRP could not be described authentically as a Socialist Party, it was surely the closest at that time, as it was the political party that galvanized the talakawas of Nigeria then, especially in the north.
Perhaps the most important and contemporary incident, which confirmed the commitment of Chukwumerije to Igbo cause is the Apo Six incident, where one Nigerian killer cop, wiped out 6 Igbo businessmen and a female friend in Abuja. The girl’s death was most gruesome, as she was drilled with a long nail through the nose until she gave up the ghost. Were it not for the indefatigable Comrade, the Apo 6 issue would have been swept under the carpet as usual. He said no and got the Nigeria Police to account, for once, for the deaths of some innocent Nigerians. Such was the stuff Comrade Uche Chukwumerije was made of.
When the Apo Six saga broke out, Uch Chukwumerije was already in the Nigerian senate where he served as the senate committee chairman on education for almost a decade, a position he held until he received death at the age of 76 and went the way of all mortals. For against death, all men, mortals alike, dwell in an unfortified city, as Comrade’s death has once more proved.
Adeiu comrade! Nigeria and Ndi Igbo will miss you sorely.
His sojourn and achievements in the Nigeria senate form yet another treatise – “Chukwumerije and His Senate Miasmas” (forthcoming).
- Law Mefor, Forensic Psychologist and Journalist, is National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement, TNM Abuja; +234-803-787-2893; e-mail: email@example.com