Uzodinma Nwala: Scholar-activist and patriot at 80
One of Nigeria’s foremost progressive intellectuals, Professor Timothy Uzodinma Nwala clocked 80 years of age on March 20, 2022.
Already, his comrades, friends, associates, and family have been reflecting on his life, while putting finishing touches to celebrate the man who has impacted positively on the life of the down-trodden in society.
Nwala was born in 1942 in Itu, Ezinihitte Mbaise, Imo state. His life has been one of a restless search for knowledge and social/intellectual activism rooted in the quest for human liberation from bondage and slavery. Nwala is a consistent and persistent advocate of human emancipation from all forms of degradation, poverty, disease and squalor.
He had his primary education at Apostolic Primary Schools in Itu and Amaumara (1951-57) and passed out with Distinction and was appointed a Pupil’s Teacher in 1958. Then, he went to Elementary Teacher’s College, Oloko, Umuahia (1959-60). He also attended Government Teachers College, Uyo (January-June, 1963) and made his GCE O/Level in 1962. He did not attend a formal secondary school.
In December 1963, Nwala cleared his A/Level papers and gained admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) to study Economics. When he arrived at UNN to commence registration, he met his former teacher at Uyo, the eminent scholar, Prof. Otonti Amadi Nduka, who convinced him to drop Economics and go for Philosophy.
At a stage, Nwala became the only student in the Philosophy class and graduated in 1967 as the first Nigerian to take a degree in Philosophy from an indigenous University. He would later play a prominent role in the teaching of African Philosophy and making it a globally recognised discipline in the world university system.
After the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, Nwala made a vantage contribution to national integration and Youth development in Nigeria. He pioneered the setting up of the East Central State Youth Volunteer Corps in Enugu. As the originator and Organiser of the scheme, he later went to key government officials under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon to submit the design and concept, which they eventually adopted for the setting up of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973. In 1972, Nwala left the shores of Nigeria on Government scholarship to the prestigious New School for Social Research where he bagged his Master and PhD degrees. He later went to Oxford University in Britain for a Commonwealth Fellowship programme and was also a Fellow of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow in the defunct Soviet Union.
On the world stage, Nwala addressed the United Nations in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council on the problems of the Youth in the world. Thereafter, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, appointed him a member of a Special Committee to advise the UN on the measures to be taken to involve the Youths in world affairs.
While in New York, Nwala formed the Nigerian Study Group whose membership included Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Prof. George Obiozor, Chia Surma (former Commissioner in Benue-Plateau state under the government of Joseph Dechi Gomwalk, a Commissioner of Police), amongst others. Back from overseas in 1976, Nwala resumed teaching at UNN. Later on, Chia Surma became the Treasurer of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and told Chief Obafemi Awolowo about Nwala. Awo sent Dr. Tunji Otegbeye to lure Nwala to join the UPN but Nwala declined and told Otegbeye that he wanted to join the popular-democratic forces in Nigeria to create a counter-force against the bourgeois political parties.
In 1978, Nwala joined two other young academics, Dr. Biodun Jeyifo and Dr. Edwin Madunagu to found the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). They floated an organisation they dubbed the “Revolutionary Directorate (RD)”. The RD became the forerunner of ASUU. Back in UNN, Nwala and Dr. Inya Eteng released the landmark pamphlet titled, “Crisis in Nigerian Universities: Underlying Factors and Solutions” – a moving document which Dr. Chuba Okadigbo described as the Green Book, coined from Muammar Ghaddafi’s policy document in Libya, the Green Book. After the formation of ASUU, Nwala was elected the pioneer Executive General-Secretaryof the Union (1980-82). He led the first ASUU strike of 1981 which opposed the commercialisation of tertiary education in Nigeria. Through their dogged efforts, Nwala and his colleagues “promoted the fundamental principles of academic freedom, university autonomy and above all, left a legacy of an effective and disciplined organisation led by an ideologically conscious leadership, inspired not by pettiness but by high moral and spiritual leadership”.
Nwala had joined the Socialist Working Peoples Party (SWPP), led by Dapo Fatogun (General Secretary) in 1979. Others in the party were Wahab Goodluck and Dr. George Anozie who acted as Chairman with Nwala as the Deputy General-Secretary. He became one of the leading lights of the Socialist movement in Nigeria. In 1989, Nwala attended the Conference of Labour Leaders and Socialist Veterans in Calabar, where he made his seminal presentation of the pamphlet, titled, “A Workers Party or A Popular Democratic Front: Which Way Forward for the Nigerian Left”. Nwala made a strong case for the creation of a popular democratic front-a coalition of Marxists, Socialists, liberals, social democrats, labour activists, students movements, professionals and the radical intelligentsia, so as to build a mass organisation that can confront and challenge military dictatorship and liberate Nigeria from feudal domination and oppression. Others who attended the Calabar Conference were: Mazi S.G.Ikoku, Prof. Eskor Toyo, Dr. Edwin Madunagu, Prof. Bene Madunagu, Comrade Bassey Ekpo Bassey, Wahab Goodluck, Prof. Princewill Alozie, Dr. Biko Agozino, Ogmore Kanu, Dr.Okonette Ekanem and Paschal Bafyau, the then President of Nigeria Labour Congress, among others.
Before this time, doctrinaire Marxists operated as arm-chair theoreticians and had nothing to do with other elements in society because of their anti-collaborationist worldview. The presentation by Nwala was initially received with a lack of enthusiasm but it was later secretly admired by some sections of the radical left. During the heady days of the confrontation between the military junta and the Nigerian people over the annulment by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida of June 12, 1993, presidential elections won by Chief M.K.O.Abiola, Nwala’s Popular Democratic Front was adopted to create NADECO, Campaign for Democracy (CD), Democratic Alternative (DA) and to radicalise the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) founded by Lagos Lawyer, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). It was this coalition of Popular Democratic Forces that succeeded in chasing the military out of power and restoring democratic government in Nigeria in 1999.
It was not only at the University of Nigeria that Nwala taught. He spent over three decades at UNN but he moved around some Universities in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. He taught and established the Philosophy Department at the University of Abuja, Benue State University, Kogi State University and Nasarawa State University. He was for many years the President of the Philosophical Association of Nigeria.
As an elected member of the 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, Nwala worked closely with former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Nwala invented the idea of six geopolitical zones but Ekwueme popularised it. Concepts such as Rotational Presidency, Power Sharing and Power Rotation were created by Nwala’s prodigious intellect. He has greatly enriched the Nigerian political lexicon. He and Ekwueme created the Institute of Civil Society (ICS), which provided the platform for the formation of G-34. Some prominent Nigerians involved in the group were: Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dr. Onyeabor Obi, Dr. Uzodinma Nwala, Prof. Jerry Gana, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, Chief Bola Ige, Adamu Ciroma, Sen. Francis Ella, Dr. Basil Nnanna Ukaegbu, Dr. Suleman Kumo and Dr Tunji Otegbeye. Both Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Sule Lamido were in prison but directed that their names be included in the G-34, which wrote Gen. Sani Abacha and gave him an ultimatum to hand over power to elected civilians.
They told him that he cannot run as President of Nigeria unless he resigns from office first.
Following the crises of Nigeria’s federalism and the rise of separatist agitations in Nigeria, Nwala has proffered an in-depth interpretation to the raging National Question. He argues that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation-state.
The problem with Nigeria, according to him is the Conquest Agenda promoted by a single Ethnic Nationality, coupled with reactionary and backward development policies which have retarded the progress of the federation. While some political leaders have called for the restructuring of the Nigerian Federation, Nwala doesn’t believe so. Rather he has called for the reconstitution and renegotiation of the artificial federation, along the lines of Autonomous Regions. If the oppressive rulers of Nigeria cannot grant Autonomy to the Regions, then the Ethnic Nationalities may be compelled by circumstances to assert their rights to self-determination, which may result in Autonomous Republics within the African Union.
In 2014, Nwala and a host of other prominent Igbo leaders founded the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) which has been committed to defending Igbo interests in the Nigerian federation. Nwala believes that the age of empire states are over. In the past, we had the Roman Empire, British Empire, Russian Empire, German Empire etc. Those empires have disappeared. Secondly, state formations based on Federations have been disappearing, giving rise to the formation of organic states. These are states made up of people with a common language and a common culture with minor variations. The failure of the federations in Africa arose from their artificiality given their history as states that were set up at the 1884-85 Berlin Conference. British, French, German and Portuguese colonialism operated the artificial states as buffer zones for their economic and commercial interests. The case of Nigeria was worsened by the 1914 forced amalgamation of disparate nationalities. Many of the former colonies like Nigeria have become chaotic and ungovernable. Oppressed nationalities in Nigeria can only regain their democratic freedom when they take their destinies into their own hands.