…As The ‘Godfather’Of Nigerian Journalism, Pa Anueyiagu Passes On At 100
PRIVILEGE is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege. Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it.
In the light of the above aphorism, I was privileged in the course of performing my duty as a journalist to interview the 97-year-old unsung godfather of Nigerian journalism, Chief Chukwuma Anueyiagu in his country home, Amudo in Awka South Council Area, Anambra State on May 15, 2012.
Before the encounter, not many Nigerians including my humble self, knew that such a great personality exists unnoticed and uncelebrated, not even by his own constituency, the media industry.
Anueyiagu could be aptly described as the doyen of Nigerian journalism, not only because he edited five great newspapers at the peak of the struggle for the country’s independence, but also because he lived a long and fulfilled life and always shared his immeasurable experiences in the profession with the younger ones.
My encounter with him then was not only incisive, revealing, inspiring and educative, it also spurred me on and has remained evergreen in my memory. It was a rare privilege that changed my perception about my profession.
As a nonagenarian then, though aged and visually impaired, Anueyiagu always woke up early morning everyday very articulate and energetic. His journalistic instincts remained in tact, as he always had his small radio beside him all the time.
Asked why he was always having a small radio by his side all the time, he responded: “It is because I cannot read newspapers now, but I have to listen to radio stations across the globe for news update.
“I cannot sleep without this radio. News is very important and when you are not informed, you are deformed. There is need for one to keep abreast with happenings within and outside his environment. That is the essence of journalism and information dissemination.”
Also during the interaction, when asked whether it was his wish to be a centenarian, he said: “I was quite happy when I turned 97. It means being a nonagenarian — just three miles away from being a centenarian. Any other thing is extra time.”
Just as God would have it for him, the extra time was given to him, as he passed on recently as a centenarian. What a fulfilled wish for a man who came, saw, and conquered, but uncelebrated and unrewarded.
Reproduced below are the excerpts of the interview he had with me in May 2012 which was published in The Guardian on Saturday with the title Reminiscences Of A 97-Year- Old Journalist…
He belongs to that fast-disappearing “old breed” who gave their all in the service of their motherland. Ninety-seven-year-old Chief Chukwuma Anueyiagu, whose odyssey through journalism, politics and community service portrays a dynamic, dignified spirit committed to the path of honesty and hardwork, spoke to SAMSON EZEA at his country home in Amudo village, Awka South Council Area of Anambra State. Even three years to the century mark, he remains vibrant and engaging.
It was exactly 9.00 am as I arrived at his house. And I was ushered into the parlour of his one-storey building by the housemaid, who informed me that Papa was having his breakfast and would soon join me.
I was waiting still patiently when the lanky old journalist, now a community leader and traditional titleholder of Okeazu Awka, sauntered into the parlour holding a small radio with BBC news on. He went straight to his accustomed seat.
Now seated, he cleared his throat, and asked, “Where is my visitor from Lagos?” I promptly greeted him. He shook my hand and asked me to sit and feel at home. And the chat took off soon after some refreshments he had ordered for me.
“I was once like you when I put my life on the line as a journalist alongside my mentor, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others to champion the country’s independence.
“It was late 1938, when I joined Zik’s West African Pilot Lagos, as a compositor and rose rapidly in the Newspaper to become editor in 1955. I later became a substantive editor of the Onitsha-based Nigerian Spokesman. In 1948, I was transferred to Port Harcourt as the editor of Eastern Nigeria Guardian and by the following year, I was moved to Kano as the editor of Daily Comet.
On what his life as a journalist was like then, he said that it provided enough training ground for his political career and his impact on the independence movement in the country.
While in Kano as editor of Daily Comet, he launched severe criticisms against British colonialism at a time that many Nigerians dared not speak any evil against the British.
His criticisms gave the British authorities sleeping nights and they did everything possible to close the newspaper, but to no avail. When plots to shut down the newspaper failed, Anueyiagu became their target.
He said: “… but I was not bothered because I knew that I was abiding by the ethics of my profession.
“When I published a headline story in the newspaper titled “British Nigeria Police Office Steals The Sum of Two Hundred Pounds,’ I was arrested by the authorities and arraigned before at a Magistrate Court in Kano. I was later discharged and acquitted when it was discovered that the story was true.
“Although, I was the editor of the newspaper, I always saw myself more as a reporter. I was always on the lookout for exclusive stories that would make the difference. That brought me into contact with many prominent personalities within and outside the country. But I never got carried away or compromise my position,” he said.
Surprisingly, instead of venturing into business which the Igbos were known for when he retired from journalism as editor of Daily Comet Kano, he went into politics and became a leading founder of the Ibo State Union in Kano and Northern Nigeria in general.
His activities as a true son of the Igbo nation made him popular. As chairman, Board of Governors, Ibo Union School Northern Nigeria, he contributed immensely to the educational advancement of Igbo sons and daughters resident in the North by the establishing private primary and secondary schools through his board – with scholarship offers.
As a grass roots politician in Kano then, he joined the Zik-led National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and between 1950 and 1956, served as a councilor in Waje Area Council comprising Tudun Wada, Sabon Gari, Fedde and Gwargwa where he used his position to protect the interest of the Igbos.
For example, he pressed for good roads, construction of market stalls and general cleanliness of the Igbo-dominated Sabon gari.
He later became a major factor in the politics of NCNC in Northern Nigeria as the chairman. He was also once chairman of United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) Northern Nigeria.
He is known to have played a considerable role in the formation of an alliance between the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the NCNC becoming the deputy chairman of the alliance while his bosom friend, the late Alhaji Aminu Kano was appointed chairman.
His foray into full-time business created employment opportunities for many people, as he became a prime mover in the formation of Northern Traders Corporation Limited (NTC).
The International Hotel, Kano, which is the first five-star hotel in the then Northern region and was established by the NTC has remained one of the pillars of tourism in Kano State today.
In recognition of Anueyiagu’s contributions to the development of the company, he was made a director and later rose to become its chairman, a position he holds till today.
He was also one of the founding members of United Nigeria Trading Company Limited (UNIC) and is currently the chairman of the company.
On why he chose to play politics first instead of business when he retired from journalism, he said, business was good, but as a journalist then, I was lured into politics by the footsteps of people like the great Zik who was my mentor in journalism. Then, political leadership was fascinating because it brought out the best in you in terms of performance and integrity.’’
According to the nonagenarian, ‘people in public positions then were there for service to humanity. So I went into it first to empower my people. And I did my best.”
Unfortunately for him, the political crisis of the First Republic affected his business ventures seriously as he lost virtually all he had worked for in life.
“The political crisis of 1966 which led to the civil war really affected my business outfits, especially in Kano. By the end of the crisis, I was forced to relocate home with almost nothing except my life and integrity.
“Back home, I managed to remain in business and judiciously utilized the little thing I had to keep myself comfortable as well as assisting in the training of my immediate and distant relations.
While at home, he contributed immensely to the making of modern Awka, organizing political groups which played a leading role in the development and sustenance of Awka Development Union and Awka District Union.
As chairman of Awka Community Council after the Civil War, he alongside other prominent sons of the community rehabilitated the town from the ravages of war within two years.
Under his leadership, the council achieved a lot for Awka Community, including the present Eke-Awka Daily Market and the movement of the former Awka General Post Office from the old Government Station (Ugom) to Umudioka – village, the heart of the town.
Anueyiagu knew that through his bosom friend, Alhaji Aminu Kano, the then Federal Commissioner for Communications, he could affect the relocation of the Post Office to the centre of Akwa.But he was reluctant to do so.
However, at a meeting of prominent Akwa men, Chief Okwuchukwu Igweze of blessed memory then Chairman Akwa Ad-hoc Reconstruction Committee, urged Anueyiagu to swallow his pride and save Akwa people from humiliation.
Persuaded Anueyiagu travelled to Lagos and brought Aminu Kano to Awka for a foundation stone-laying ceremony of the General Post Office in 1971.
Today, the Post Office is the territorial headquarters of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) in Anambra State.
Under Anueyiagu’s leadership, the community council rehabilitated and extended water supply to all the thirty-three villages, restored electricity supply, rehabilitated Amaku General Hospital, schools, colleges, and roads. The Community Council also facilitated the building of a High Court in Awka.
On the whole, the Council emerged as the most successful community-based administration in the whole of the present South East geo-political zone from 1970 to 1975. This was recognized and gazetted by the government of the East Central State (South East) of Nigeria. The Council also received an award of one thousand pounds for excellence from the administrator of the state, Mr. Ukpabi Asika.
In 1975, Pa Anueyiagu resigned from his position as chairman of the Awka Community Council and took to private life.
Speaking on his achievements as a community leader, he said that he believed in human empowerment through community development and not self-aggrandizement.
“I never dilly-dally in using my wide contacts to assist my people. Having been a successful journalist, politicians and businessman before returning home, I believe in assisting my people the much I can without asking for rewards. That is why I am always modest about my achievements.”
With the return of party politics in 1979 after about nine years of military rule, Chief Anueyiagu joined the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) led by his former boss, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, but later decamped to the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) when NPP failed to nominate him to run for the House of Assembly election on its platform.
Realizing his popularity and how he was held in high esteem by many people, the Governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo appointed him Special Assistant, Political Affairs and with this, he became the governor’s representative in the Awka zone. He said of his experience in politics working with Nwobodo.
“We made a lot of personal sacrifices unlike today that an average political office holder is looking for what to grab.
This is not the country of our dreams that we fought for its independence. But I still have confidence that Nigeria will get it right again in terms of leadership sooner or later.”
How does he feel at 97?
“I am very grateful to God for giving me long life. I was quite happy when I turned 97. It means being a nonagenarian – just three miles away from being a centenarian. Any other thing is extra time.
“It is an act of God. Though I am visually impaired today, I am happy that He allowed me to complete my job. He blessed me with decent children from a successful marriage. I consider myself quite lucky.
“I was born in 1915. At the age of 11, that was in 1926. I was admitted into Awka Government School. Before I completed my studies in 1934 my father had died. So, I had to stay for a while with my mother to do farm work before I continued school.”
On whether he is bothered about not being honoured by the state or federal government for his immense contributions to national development, Anueyiagu responded: “Which national honour from state or federal Government do I need again now?
God has given me everything by keeping me alive today. I can’t remember my age mates that are still alive today. National awards are for sale these days and not on merit. It has been bastardized and I do not need it now because it is not worth it.”
He gave his advice on longevity: “It is about self discipline. Many people have failed to realise that there is need to eat healthy and live a careful life.
“As a young man, I lived a very careful and simple life. I had control over what I eat or what I do, especially with women. That is the advice I always give to people till today.”
It was obviously in recognition of all these that His Royal Highness Obi A.C. Ndigwe, the Eze Uzu 1 of Awka conferred on Pa Chukwuemeka Anueyiagu the honorary chieftaincy of Okeazu Awka – Pillar of Awka
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