I saved Zik from being stabbed during Independence struggle

THE SUN Newspaper- David Onwuchekwa

Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, first Nigerian aviation minister, is popularly known in the political circle as the “Boy is good.” He was in the forefront of nationalist struggle for Nigerian independence with the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Amaechi was a strong member of the Zikist Movement, a pressure group that sprang up from the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), one of the major political parties that fought the British colonial masters and won the country independence in 1960.
In this interview, Amaechi talked about so many issues relating to Nigeria’s independence, ranging from the struggle, military intervention and imbalance in the political leadership. Excerpts:

How did you earn the name, “The Boy is good?”
Well, you were too young to know that. That was the name they gave me in my active days as a Zikist nationalist, as a young NCNC field man and as a politician. At that time, I was really known more by that name than my real name. Now, I am neither a boy nor do I look like a boy, it has continued to influence my real name. They still call me by that name.

The young ones cannot understand why a man of my age should be called a boy. That was just it.
It started in 1957, during one of the series of conferences agitating for independence. A meeting was to hold at the residence of the British Governor of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson at Marina in Lagos. The leaders of the three main political parties in the country then were to come with their delegation for one of the sessions of the conference.
The Sardauna of Sokoto was the first to arrive with his team. He drove in. Awolowo was second to arrive with his team. He drove in. Then I was in the NCNC team, and we were going with Zik. Zik was riding in his official station wagon vehicle. Then there was a very large crowd outside the gate of the Government House, Marina. And as Zik’s driver was trying to drive into the gate, a big stone landed at the side glass of the car, shattered the glass and we were wondering what happened.

Then I was driving with Fred Anyiam in my car and we all stopped for him (Zik) to go in first and then we followed. Then I noticed that a young man emerged from the crowd pulled a long sharp double-edged dagger under the lapel of his suit. He dashed forward to stab Zik on the chest. So I said to Fred Anyiam this is assassination, this is assassination. Then I jumped out of my car and charged at the man. And then the white police officer there looked the other way while this was happening. He didn’t feel any concern. As the man raised his hand to stab Zik, because his driver had stopped, I held the man by the hands. We were struggling and he wounded me on my finger and tummy. And as we were struggling the police looked unconcerned. Then I raised an Igbo war cry: Igbo nozikwa eba, Igbo nozikwa eba (where are the Igbo? Where are the Igbo?). So one Inspector Chukwuma from Eziowere in Anambra State dashed out and with a long baton he knocked the man on the head and elbow. The dagger fell on the ground. He stepped on the dagger. Then I shouted to Zik’s driver to keep driving. Then Sam drove in and they shut the gate and then arrested the man.

I was taken to the general hospital in Lagos because it was nearby and they treated me there. One Dr Ofili, an Igbo lady doctor, attended to me.
At one political rally, Zik relayed what happened. He narrated how my timely action saved his life and said, “the boy was really good.” So from then the thing stuck. People started calling me “the boy is good, the boy is good.” That was how it started.

Could you give us an insight into the struggle for independence?
Zik was the party leader that was in the forefront of the struggle for Independence. He became the national president of the NCNC when Herbert Macaulay died. Zik took over in 1947 and then I left college in 1948. But in 1948, as a student still, I joined the Zikist Movement, which was a radical arm of the NCNC, a youth wing of the NCNC. So we were all loyal to Zik and the NCNC. And in 1950, after the call for revolution lecture delivered by Osita Agwuna, Zikist Movement was banned by the British government. In 1950, many of us were imprisoned. Then in 1951, we decided to rename the Zikist Movement. It metamorphosed from Zikist Movement to NCNC Youth Association and I became the secretary general with Fred McEwen as the national chairman.

So we continued the radical policies of the NCNC. In 1955, I was asked to be the principal organising secretary of the NCNC and I remained in that position till 1960 when I won election to parliament and I went to Lagos. I was appointed the first parliamentary secretary. After a year, I was appointed minister.

The Zikists were loyal and supportive to Zik. But perhaps, there is a stronger personal relationship between Zik and myself, maybe because I saved his life or maybe because of my activities. But we were quite close.

Now Nigeria is 50. How do you rate the country?
I hear we are celebrating 50 wasted years of Nigerian development. The nationalists fought for independence. They were on the radical or revolutionary side of Independence. There was evolutionary side of it. But the important thing is that Sardauna’s NPC and Awolowo’s Action Group and Azikiwe’s NCNC agreed to work together in the struggle for Independence. They jointly demanded independence from Britain.

Now, we envisaged and planned for a great country in Africa, a country that would give leadership, moral leadership, economic leadership, and political leadership to the rest of Africa. But unfortunately, the nationalists were only empowered and in control for six months, when the most unpatriotic military turned the arms the nationalists gave to them to protect and defend the country, on the nationalists. They killed the Prime Minister, killed the two premiers, killed some top army officers, killed the minister of finance and toppled the government and remained in power for about thirty something years. The military stayed in power, thereby destroying values, destroying political history of the country. They don’t want the history of the country to be known.

So civilian rulers have lost touch of the true history of the country. That is why, for example, Nigerians say they are celebrating 50 years of independence, and they do not give a thought to the founders of that country. I, for example, did not receive any single invitation, as I’m talking to you now. What kind of country is this? What kind of government is that? There are not many survivors of the struggle for independence. Not many of us are remaining. Of the ministers that ran the government of Nigeria in the First Republic at independence, only six of us are remaining: Shehu Shagari, was elected president in 1979; Inua Wada, Maitama Sule, Shettima Ali Monguno, M.T. Mbu and Mbazuluike Amaechi; only six of us are remaining in the country.

Now how can a country be celebrating its independence without remembering people like us? What kind of country is that? It is a useless country, not the country itself is useless but the people who are running the affairs of the country. They are simply opportunists who do not bother to know the history of the country. They do not bother to know how what they are enjoying now was created, how it was brought about, how the cake they are enjoying now was baked, and the struggle people made to achieve it.

What we want is good leadership; give the people good government. But from the military to the present dispensation, what do we see? It is massive stealing, massive looting, corruption and destruction of what was created.

So, we are celebrating 50 years of independence but the question is, what was achieved in the 50 years? What has the country achieved in the 50 years? I, for example, set up the ministry of aviation. I inherited three pieces of piston engine aircraft only from the West Africa Airways Corporation. After Ghana and Nigeria became independent they disbanded what was then known as West Africa Airways Corporation. Then I formed the Nigeria Airways with three aircraft only. At the time I left the ministry, I increased the fleet to 18 aircraft, including 10 intercontinental big body jets. I set up the aviation training school, Zaria, set up instrument landing devices in Kano and Port Harcourt airports. Today all those structures are destroyed. All the places were sold and Nigeria Airways dissolved. Nigeria has no national carrier. But we have some planes owned by some governors who did not own a Peugeot car before they became governors, who now run a fleet of aircraft. That is the nature of corruption and rottenness Nigeria finds itself.

What was the motivation for struggle?
Do you mean the struggle for independence? Who would like to be a slave? No sensible humanbeing would like to be a slave. Britain used power and religion to subjugate many countries in Africa. They used the Bible, side by side with gun. With the Bible, they thought that you should not fight, do not do this and do not do that. Then on the other side they used the gun to overpower you and rule you. So they were carting away the wealth of the country to their own country. They carried away the raw materials from our country, the palm produce, the cocoa, the rubber and everything and converted them into manufactured goods and then sell to us at exorbitant prices. They were running government of the country without allowing the people to run their own country. So at a stage, people became educated. The churches came and they had no alternative than to educate people because to communicate with them you must educate people and a few became educated.

And as soldiers returned from the World War II, where they recruited Nigerian youths to fight side by side with Britain against Germany, as workers in the railway and UAC in those days became enlightened, they discovered that the British had been exloiting us. They discovered that they had been exploiting the country. The people decided to fight. We refused to become slaves to Britain. That was how the struggle for independence originated.

How then did the military come in?
Nigeria was ripe at the time it became independent. What went wrong was when the military assumed power by force. And you know the military is trained for one thing: to destroy, to kill, to massacre and to loot. The military is not trained to manage. It is only when the enemy comes to invade, they try to kill the enemy, destroy the enemy and loot his property. That is what they are trained for. So it was a long interruption of the military in the governance of Nigeria that brought about what we now call the shame of this country. You people are too young. You wouldn’t know that there was a time when there was nothing like power failure, where electricity never failed. There was a time in Nigeria when pipe-borne water was running 24 hours.

There was a time in Nigeria when people travelled from Onitsha to Lagos in the night, no armed robbery, no stealing, and no violence. There was a time in Nigeria when workers were paid at the end of the month. And at the end of their career they collected their gratuity on the last day of their work in office and the following month they started collecting their pension. There was this time in Nigeria. And at that time we had no oil. Nigeria had no gas. From 1970, we developed oil well and wealth and the military officers saw that and they were carrying the proceeds to their bank accounts overseas.

The military now handed over to politicians who collaborated with them in stealing, who were contractors or their friends and so forth. They were the people who had money enough to win elections to go to Senate or House of Representatives, to become governors and to become president. I have always said it. Nigeria has had only two civilian governments after the war. That is the Shagari government and Yar’Adua government. All other governments were military throughout. You can’t say that Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years, as elected president, was a civilian government. As far as I’m concerned it is the same military without uniform. The military introduced corruption and looting.

If Nigerians want the rottenness to continue let them elect them (the military in civilian attire). For example, I don’t see somebody who was in absolute power for eight years without a National Assembly, with only judges appointed by him and could be sacked by him to say he wants to rule the country. If Nigerians want to elect such people let them go ahead.

How would you assess democracy?
It has not been democracy all the way. It has been interrupted for a long period of nearly 40 years out of the 50 years of our independence. And even as we return to democratically elected government, world opinion has been very critical of the way and manner elections in the country are held. That is why we all cry and hope that the next election should really be free, fair and transparently credible.
People should support anybody they like, but for all I know I don’t see how anybody can defeat the president, either from another political party or his own political party. After our summit in Enugu we have been holding series of meetings with the South South and people from other areas. But everybody has the right to vote the way he wants.


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