Pa. Chukwuma Anueyiagu (1915-2015)
WHEN he turned 97, Chukwuma Anueyiagu said he was “just three miles from being a centenarian” and the veteran journalist, politician and community leader wished for “extra time” to make the milestone even as he had become visually impaired. Pa Chukwuma Anueyiagu must, therefore, have felt a sense of fulfillment in life as his wish was granted before taking his final bow the other day.
His remains were interred in his native Awka, a community he served so well and his exemplary life is still a reference in reverence, especially in journalism, a profession in which he distinguished himself. The “godfather of Nigerian journalism” had been modest about his achievements in all areas – his magnanimous and dignified spirit committed to honesty and hard work was even more evident in his unwavering service to the Awka community of Anambra State where he was deservedly honoured with Okeazu Awka (Pillar of Awka) title after he retired home.
His media career was distinguished, having edited five newspapers in the period leading to the country’s struggle for independence. With the great nationalist, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as his mentor, Anueyiagu had joined others to put their lives on the line as journalists to champion independence. Late in 1938, he joined Zik’s West African Pilot, Lagos, as a compositor but worked his way to edit the paper in 1955. He was much later also a substantive editor of the Onitsha-based Nigerian Spokesman.
In 1948, he was transferred to Port Harcourt as the editor of the Eastern Nigeria Guardian and a year later moved to Kano to edit Daily Comet. There, he distinguished himself as a courageous journalist who launched out against British colonialism at a time many Nigerians could not summon the courage to speak against the colonial masters. Anueyiagu, of course, became a marked man for the uncomfortable British rulers who tried but failed in many attempts to shut down his newspaper.
He was arraigned at a Magistrate Court in Kano but discharged and acquitted for publishing a story titled ‘British Nigeria Police Office steals The Sum of Two Hundred Pounds’ which was discovered to be authentic. Even as an editor, Anueyiagu saw himself more as a reporter always on the lookout for exclusives that made a difference from the pack.
That exposed him to important people with whom he became friends, but he never compromised his integrity and upheld the best ethics of the calling. Not only that, he also mentored many other young, promising reporters. A journalist till the very end, even as a nonagenarian, he would still wake up clutching a radio to be in touch with the world “for news updates across the globe.” For Anueyiagu, a man who is not informed is deformed.
Political leadership was fascinating to him because it brought out the best in terms of performance and integrity. Upon his retirement from journalism which he believed prepared him for life in politics, he followed in the footsteps of people like Zik and moved into the political terrain as a leading founder of the Ibo Union in Kano and Northern Nigeria.
The Nnamdi Azikwe-led National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) recognized him as a grassroots leader, making him Councillor in Waje. That prepared him for the ultimate role as NCNC chairman in Northern Nigeria and as chairman of the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) where he played a major role in the alliance with Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) as deputy to the iconic Alhaji Aminu Kano.
Anueyiagu had a stint in business too. But the political crisis of the First Republic affected him so much that he lost virtually all he worked for in Kano and that forced his relocation home to the East with nothing except his life and integrity. Anueyiagu’s contribution to making modern Awka was immense, playing out in the sustenance of the Development Union and the District Union. Within two years as chairman of Awka Community Council, he joined other prominent sons of the community to rehabilitate the town ravaged by the civil war.
Part of his joy was the emergence and gazetting of the council by the government of the then East Central State as the most successful community-based administration from 1970-1975. In the Second Republic, he joined Zik-led Nigeria Peoples Party with the return of party politics in 1979 and the Peoples Redemption Party accommodated him upon decampment later from the NPP.
He once served as special assistant, political affairs, to Governor Jim Nwobodo in the old Anambra State. A man of honour, Anueyiagu decried what he termed the commercialization of national awards in contemporary times and opposed it with every breath in him even in his old age because it had been bastardized. With Anueyiagu’s passing, Nigeria has lost one of its founders and journalism has lost one of its authentic godfathers.