Few Nigerian leaders believe in the efficacy of the intellect to shape a better society more than Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo. This is evident in his unapologetic engagements with ‘Project Nigeria’ either as a politician, a political theorist, a writer, a publisher or an activist. How he wielded the agency of these attributes into one big personality and executed each as near perfectly as the other remains a dignifying portrait of his lifetime.
Unlike most nationalists, Dr. Nwankwo’s engagement with nation building was on his own terms. He loathed following agenda that did not conform to his World Viewor out of the need just to follow the crowd. In so doing, he carved a uniqueness of approach that was neither tainted of selfishness, ethnic motivation nor drownedin impurities of playing to the gallery. His approach to fighting repressive forces of the Nigerian State remained iconoclastic until hislast breath.
Reflecting on his multi- faceted approach to civic engagement, one would only hazard an informedguess as to where he gained the exposure to articulate and build into one eclectic personality such diverse qualities that stood him out as a man of many parts in his nationalist engagements with ‘Project Nigeria’. If you spare a moment and introspectively review his person, you would discover that in Dr Nwankwo, one could feel the literary and political sagacity of a Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; purposeful defiance and activism of an Mbonu Ojike (boycott all boycottables), results-driven pragmatism of a Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a Talakawa socialismof anAlhaji Aminu Kano, all rolled into one huge corpus of a tireless nationalist ina fierce battle with retrogressive forces whose only interest was to arrest and frustrate development of any kind in Nigeria.
When Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Chinua Achebe and a few others floated the Nwamife Publishers in early 1970s, it was in furtherance of his conviction on the indispensability of documented knowledge to properly guide national discuss on the best way to make the project Nigeria work for all. Nwamife Publishers under the able leadership of Dr. Nwankwo as the pioneer chief Executive between 1970 and 1976 was motivated to provide a platform that could quickly reawaken the bruised intellectual prowess ofNdigbo soon after the civil war to reengage the emerging post war Nigeria purposefully.
In so doing, he was sold to the fact that the post-civil war engagement with the issues of development in Igbo land and beyond must be anchored on a healthy knowledge-driven literary culture that was as at then, in search of a platform to crystalize. Himself and the late Chinua Achebe ( Eagel on Iroko) quickly provided one through Nwamife publishing company. That early effort in publishing soon after the war yielded some of Nigeria’s finest writers in time including KaluUka, Maj General Mamman Vatsa, Flora Nwapa, MekiNzewi to mention just a few.
In the same vein, Fourth Dimension Publishers founded by Arthur and his brothers, Victor and Ejiofor in 1977 continued the task of keeping the intellectual front alive and well as the suppressive tendencies of the era of military dictatorship began to manifest in Nigeria’s political and development space. In this context, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo was not lost on the catalytic role a publishing house could play in energizing the intellectual prowess of Nigerians to fully deploy the instrumentality of intellect to shape civic engagement during and after the era of military dictatorship in Nigeria.
For the second time, Dr. Nwankwo again largely succeeded as Fourth Dimension Publishers became the hub for most innovative titles that blazed trails in publishing, east of the Niger. I am particularly enthralled by the attention the company paid to publishing Igbo language titles that produced such stars as Toni Ubesie (isiakwuDaraN’ala) andAneziOkoro’s innovative translation of Shakespeare in Igbo ( AkukoUfoduShakespaereKoro). Therefore, it is a fitting tribute that under Dr. Arthur Nwankwos watch, Fourth Dimension Publishers revolutionised publishing much like what the Great Zik did with West African Publishing Company, publishers of the West African Pilot in the early 1940s.
He was not only a political theorist; he practised politics in the best traditions of an intellectual in the game. What is the best tradition of politics for an intellectual one may ask? It is generally to provide the proper context of issues that ought to shape public service more than the rabid quest to win at all cost. It may have been disappointing to Dr. Nwankwo that the rabid quest to win at all cost sacrificed the more ennobling role of keeping the politicians and the political space focused on what ought to be the purpose of power which is service, rather than pursing power for its sake.
In the Second Republic (1979-1983), he ran for the office of Governor of Anambra state under the Peoples Redemption Party ( PRP) led by late Alhaji Aminu Kano. The party offered him a platform to show case his ideological pragmatism which he wished would have provided a choice for the emerging Nigerian democratic dispensation to get it right from the beginning and to clear the space for the participation of intellectuals in politics, to sustain engagement with the political process both with and without winning elections. Whether he succeeded in this endeavour will only be vindicated by time and contextual judgement as Nigeria gropes in search of stable democracy.
Dr. Arthur Nwankwos deployment of intellect to shape political discourse and constitutional development found robust expression in his well-knownintellectual spat with President, then General Olusegun Obasanjo. An engagement that produced the popular book ‘Before I die’. At the apogee of military dictatorship in Nigeria and the consequent muzzling of all freedoms- speech, association and all, General Obasanjo published a book titled’ Constitution for National Integration and Development’ which, according to Dr. Nwankwo, advocated for ‘One party State’as a preferred political structure to fastrack Nigeria’s development. Dr. Nwankwo’s response was as defiant as it was courageous. He lampooned the idea and accused Obasanjo of insincerity and went further to start an intellectual debate on the merits and demerits of one party state as a panacea for Nigeria’spolitical and economic development. The deep intellectual engagement between the two soon degenerated into finger pointing and threats. From where Dr. Nwankwo found the courage to confront the military establishment in Nigeria at the time no one had the liver to dare therampaging lions with loaded guns.
Dr. Nwankwo in the preface of the book ‘Before I die’ proclaimed ‘Before I die. I must fulfil the noble and revolutionary role of publishing in the identification and exposition of truth for the good of humanity..’ .In the foregoing context, I sincerely believe that ‘Before he died’ Dr. Nwankwo more than fulfilled this promise in a way that his exit leaves a gaping hole in the arena of intellectually- driven political and economic development in Nigeria. His purposeful engagement with the political and social process in Nigeria will serve as a beacon light to the oncoming generations. His rejection to compromise on the basic and irreducible standards of the intellectual in engaging with the political and development process in Nigeria is already finding expression in the burgeoning interest of Nigerian intellectuals toreengage with the Nigerian political process currently taken over by touts, 419ners, ethnic and feudal jingoists. Before he died, he fulfilled his promise!
May your soul find rest in the bosom of the LORD. Amen.