EVERYDOG HAS HIS DAY
Did you know that during the 1963 Inaugural Conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (1892-1975), literally dropped to his knees and begged Nigeria's Prime Minister The Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) to plead with his Foreign Minister, first indigenous Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, former Minister of Aviation and Ugo Ngwa [Eagle and Pride of the Ngwa people], Jaja Anucha Wachuku (1918-1996), to accede to the request of Nicolas Grunitzky (1913-1969), Togolese military President from 1963 to 1967, who overthrew and assassinated Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio (1902-1963) nationalist politician, former Prime Minister and later President of Togo from 1958 to 1963, in Africa's first coup d'état on 13th January 1963, that he [Grunitzky] be admitted to take part in that first OAU Conference?
Wachuku had taken an instant dislike to Grunitzky and everything he stood for, and was convinced beyond every reasonable doubt that the coup in Togo was an incident which was to have painful repercussions elsewhere in Africa. Defiantly rejecting any talk of a compromise, his funny response was that as Number Three in the Nigerian government hierarchy, he would have reached safety well before coup plotters arrived on his doorstep since they normally target Numbers One and Two, that is President and Prime Minister. It was the kind of argument that is impossible to refute. To, therefore disprove any suggestion of intellectual snobbery, he sought to explain himself, but with a ring of prophesy: his voice laden with the unmistakable pain accustomed to one who is misunderstood. Without being apologetic, Wachuku told them that he would have retreated to, and be seen to be cooling off in, his village Nbawsi, Abia State, if the worst should come to the worst on such a day. By his refusal, Togo missed her chance of representation at the Inaugural Conference, the only independent African country that was given the cold-shoulder.
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (1975-1983) and Nigeria's External Affairs Minister (1985-1987) in a public lecture titled "Nigeria: The Blackman's Burden" delivered on 24th February, 2005 at the NIIA to mark the 28th Anniversary of the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) and the 2005 Black History Month, said about Jaja Wachuku, at the founding period in Nigeria's Foreign Policy:
"Karl Marx must have had Togo in mind when he wrote in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, "Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce". In 1963, when President Sylvanus Olympio was assassinated, Jaja Wachuku, the Nigerian Foreign Minister in condemning the action added that for security reasons, Nigerian boundary was the Togo-Ghana boundary. He was roundly condemned. Looks like he was just speaking forty years out of turn. He would be pleased to know that Nigeria had caught up with him. And that should also be a lesson to those who think that Nigerian foreign policy started and ended up with them."
Hardly one to miss a detail, Wachuku is reputed to own the biggest one-man-library in the whole of West Africa, which caused Prime Minister Balewa to sometimes refer to him as the “Most Bookish Minister.” He had foreseen how inherently dangerous recognizing military coups as a way of enthroning political change-cum-succession can prove, and had personally felt convinced that if that first African coup by Nicolas Grunitzky of the Togolese Army was allowed to stand by allowing him [Grunitzky] to sit among, and rub shoulders with democratically elected leaders of government, many more governments in Africa would suffer a similar fate [coup d'état]. This feeling would turn out to be prescient as the governments of both Balewa and Selassie were overthrown separately by military juntas on 15th January 1966 and 12th September, 1974 respectively. It soon became an egbinrin ọ̀tẹ̀ (a concatenation) of sort, or a series of misadventures to say the least.
Even, perhaps, the most vociferous supporter of Grunitzky, the Togolese coupist, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), renowned to later rejoice about the overthrow of Balewa's “feudalistic and retrogressive” government, was himself toppled on 24th February 1966 [exactly forty days after Balewa's fall] while he was on a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam by Brigadier Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa (1936-1979). Nkrumah had granted political asylum to Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, the run-away mastermind of the military coup in Nigeria, and had lodged him along side other Nigerian fugitives of the Balewa government such as Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010), Ayo Adebanjo (b. 1929) and Samuel Goomsu Ikoku (1922-1997), Action Group's General Secretary and Ideologist.
Afrifa was himself executed together with two other former heads of state of Ghana, General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong (1931-1979) who ruled Ghana from 1972 to 1978 having led a coup d'état to overthrow the democratically elected government (1969-1972) of the Progress Party and its leader Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia (1913-1978) on 13th January 1972, while he was in Britain for a medical check-up, and General Frederick Kwasi Akuffo (1937-1979) who came to power in a palace coup which overthrew General Acheampong on 5th July 1978, and was himself overthrown in another military coup on 4th June 1979 and executed three weeks later (exactly on 26th June 1979), along with five other Generals (Utuka, Felli, Boakye, Robert Kotei and Amedume), at the Teshie Military Range, Ghana by former Air Force officer and current envoy to Somalia, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings [later President Rawlings] (b. 1947), who ruled Ghana in 1979, and again from 1981 to 2001.
It is also a sad truth that much earlier, Patrice Émery Lumumba (1925-1961), Congolese independence leader and first democratically elected Prime Minister of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was toppled and assassinated in a coup led by Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbedu Wa Za Banga, who renamed the country Zaire in 1971 and ruled from 1965 to 1997. Also, Libya, originally called United Libyan Kingdom at independence on 24th December 1951, suffered an army takeover eighteen years later on 1st September 1969, when Colonel Muammur Muhammed Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi popularly called Colonel Gaddafi (1942-2011) seized power in a bloodless military coup which overthrew Libya's first and only king (1951-1969), King Mohammad Idris al-Sanousi (1890-1983), who was then in Turkey for medical treatment. Gaddafi would rule Libya for a whopping forty-two years and was killed after an assault on his birthplace of Sirte on 20th October, 2011.
Likewise in the Central African Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1921-1979) overthrew David Dacko on 1st January, 1966 and first ruled as president (1966-1976), and then as a self-proclaimed emperor of the Central African Empire (1976-1979). Also on 6th October 1981, Egypt's third President, Mohammed Anwar El Sadat (1918-1981), after eleven years in office, was assassinated by fundamentalist army officers. Earlier in 1952, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), had led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 along with Muhammad Naguib (1901-1984), the country's first president, and overthrew the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in Egypt and Sudan, thereby heralding “a new period of modernization and socialist reform in Egypt together with a profound advancement of pan-Arab nationalism”, including a short-lived union with Syria from 1958 to 1961. The list goes on and on…
To make a long story short, Jaja Wachuku narrowly escaped with his life by virtue of his lucky and timely resignation of his Ministership of Aviation and Speakership of the Nigerian Parliament on 14th January, 1966, barely twelve hours before the Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (d. 1967) led military coup of the following day (15th January, 1966), which ushered in the era of military coups in Nigeria. Wachuku's withdrawal from government had stemmed from his refusal to obey his party's [NCNC] directive which demanded that the sacked Chairman of Nigerian Airways Board, a certain Mr. Blankson, “who felt himself beyond ministerial control,” be reinstated to avoid a potential crisis that would otherwise have compounded the already grave state of emergency in the country, if the party was to withdraw its Ministers from the coalition government.
Neither the Prime Minister's intervention nor Rhoda's [Wachuku's wife] could sufficiently persuade Wachuku to rescind his decision. In fact, Balewa was still contemplating whether or not to accept his resignation when the army struck the following day. But on this fateful day, Wachuku, in company with his younger brother Kennedy, was to be found no where near his village, Nbawsi, Abia State as prophesied by him, but at his official residence 7, Okotie-Eboh Street Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, which was already surrounded by soldiers. The following dialogue ensued as the former Speaker looked through the window in the early hours of that fateful morning and saw the soldiers:
Wachuku: "What are you boys doing here?"
One of the soldiers: "Good morning, Sir. But haven't you
heard what is happening in the country?"
Wachuku: "Yes. I know you boys have taken over the Government."
Soldier: "Do not be afraid, Sir. We have come to protect you for being an honest Government Minister."
Jaja Wachuku, notably "Nigeria's dynamic U.N. Ambassador," as Time magazine rightly described him, brought a lot of energy, wisdom and determination to the job, which deliberately impacted on “his worthy, very lively and enthusiastic diplomatic style,” and secured in the process the appointment of the first African Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations - Nigeria's Godfrey K. J. Amachree, who later emerged UN Under Secretary-General for Trusteeship and Non-Self-Governing Territories. Attested Time:
"Nigeria, less than two months after winning its independence, is on its way to becoming one of the major forces in Africa."
A globally distinguished Nigerian statesman, lawyer, politician, diplomat and humanitarian, Wachuku replaced former Speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives, Britain's Sir Frederic William Metcalfe, KCB (1886-1965). He also became the first Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and hoisted Nigeria's flag as the 99th member of the august body on 7th October 1960, which marked his instrumentality to Nigeria becoming the 58th Member State of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday 14th November, 1960.
During his time at the UN, as well as his years as first Nigerian foreign Affairs Minister, Wachuku used his good offices to forge a good and lasting relationship with the 34th, 35th and 36th U.S. Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) respectively. He also became good friends with the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Sam Rayburn (1882-1961), U.S. Vice President Adlai Stevenson(1835-1914), American clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), U.S. Vice President Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908-1979), President of the Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II (1917-1987), Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (1898-1978), and the colourful Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), who “was the only Soviet leader ever to be removed peacefully from office - a direct result of the post-Stalin thaw he had instigated in 1956”, amongst other numerous leaders and people around the world.
While at the United Nations, Time and Jet magazines commendably quoted Wachuku when he lambasted the Eastern and Western Blocs from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly over their unwillingness to bring about an end to the Cold War:
"I am losing confidence in the great powers. They are climbing from the pedestal of greatness to the pedestal of insanity. We expect leadership from them; they give us destruction. We expect wisdom from them; they give us lack of knowledge...."
In 1960, Wachuku attended the Philadelphia third annual conference of the American Society of African Culture (AMSAC) in his capacity as Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Cambridge History of Africa Volume 8 c. 1940-c. 1975 published by the Cambridge University Press, on page 107, referred thus to Jaja Wachuku:
" Some of those present had strong links with the Pan-Africanist past, notably Rayford W. Logan, who had played an important part in the era of Pan-African congresses after the First World War; Jean Price-Mars, Haitian diplomat, philosopher of négritude, and President of the Société Africaine de Culture in Paris; and Jaja Wachuku, who had been at the 1945 Pan-African Congress, and who was in 1960 foreign Minister of Nigeria...."
Matriculating in 1939, Wachuku emerged the first African Laureate in Oratory of the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and was elected Executive Member of the College Historical Society in 1941. He was called to the Irish bar association - Kings Inn - in November 1944, and became fully involved in Nigeria's constitutional conferences and struggle for independence from Britain. After a three year law practice in Dublin, Ireland, Wachuku returned to Nigeria in 1947, armed with B.A. Legal Science degree and LL.B Prizeman in Roman law, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. He was also a Research Fellow at the Department of International Law, Trinity College, Dublin - with the topic: "The Juristic Status of Protectorates in International Law." From 1947 to 1996, Wachuku served as Barrister and Solicitor of The Supreme Court of Nigeria and also practiced at the West African Court of Appeal (WACA).
Wachuku, whose powerful father, King Josaiah Ndubuisi Wachuku (d. 1950), was the Paramount Chief, Servant Leader and Head of Ngwaland of the then Aba Division of Eastern Nigeria, and whose mother, Queen Rebecca Ngwanchiwa Wachuku [née Nwaogwugwu] (d. 1963) was a pioneer Women's rights advocate and humane royal land-owner, had upon returning to Nigeria in 1947 joined others to fight for an end to colonial rule and independence of Nigeria from Britain. He was a charming travelling companion of future Nigerian Governor-General and President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), and was present at Takoradi, Gold Coast (British Colony) - now Ghana, when Azikiwe spoke to Ghanaian statesman, pan-Africanist, scholar and historian, Joseph Boakye Danquah (1895-1965), who played a significant role in pre and post colonial Ghana and who is credited with giving Ghana its name, - concerning the organizational ability of future Ghanaian President and independence leader Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972). Azikiwe had urged Danquah to invite Nkrumah back home from England in order to contribute his own quota to governance in Ghana.
In the same year of his return to Nigeria, Wachuku joined the NCNC, and was elected the Party's Legal Adviser and Member of the National Executive Committee. He partook of the nationalist agitation of that period, with his lectures enjoying audience favour at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. It was at the same venue that one of his lectures provoked national controversy when he declared Lagos a "no man's land" – to capture the centre of excellence's all-Nigerian status.
Wachuku's founding of a radical Youth Movement named the New Africa Party in 1949, which he affiliated with Azikiwe's NCNC party the following year, elicited a positive response in form of a letter from London, England dated 29th May, 1951, and sent to American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Lenin Peace Prize award winner and the first African American to earn a doctorate W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963), and later included in the book titled: The Correspondence of W. E. B. Du Bois: Volume III Selections, 1944-1963 edited by American Marxist historian and political activist Herbert Aptheker (1915-2003) and published by the University of Massachusetts Press, leading Pan-Africanist, journalist, and author, Malcom Ivan Nurse (1903-1959) better known by his pseudonym George Padmore, said:
"Enclosed are a few clippings from West Africa. You will no doubt remember Jaja Wachuku who was a delegate to the Fifth Pan-African Congress. He has recently started a Pan-African Party in Nigeria to spread the ideas of which you are the worthy father..."
A thoroughbred grassroots' politician, Jaja Wachuku attended the 1953 Constitutional Conference in London as Alternate Delegate and Adviser to the Nigerian Independence Party (NIP) - a break-away faction that was formed following the NCNC crisis of 1953. Four years later, Wachuku became a member of the Parliamentary Committee on the Nigerianization of the Federal Civil Service and wrote the Committee's Report with assistance from future FEDECO Chairman, Chief Michael O. Ani (b.1917), who in 1966 would be appointed a Commissioner by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi (1924-1966) to assist in reviewing the unification of regional public services. In 1959, Wachuku was re-elected into the House of Representatives from Aba Division; and was, subsequently, elected the first indigenous Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives from 1959 to 1960, receiving Nigeria's Instrument of Independence (the Freedom Charter) on 1st October, 1960 from Princess Alexandra of Kent, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy (1936-2011), who represented her cousin the Queen of England, Elizabeth II (b.1926) at the Nigerian Independence ceremonies.
In his dealings with both the British and Americans as Nigeria's Foreign Minister, Wachuku's preference for quiet consultation worked so well in seeking solutions to continental and international problems. In 1963, the Rivonia Trial, for example, raised a huge hue and cry in South Africa about the arrest of Walter Sisulu (1912-2003), Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada (b. 1929), Govan Mvuyelwa Mbeki (1910-2001), Denis Goldberg (b. 1933), Raymond Mhlaba (d. 2005) , Andrew Mokete Mlangeni (b. 1926), Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein (b. 1920) and others. They and Nelson Mandela, who was serving term on his 1962 conviction, were charged by South Africa's apartheid government with planning its overthrow. The charges carried the death penalty and most observers feared that they would be sentenced to death.
Perhaps, it was Jaja Wachuku's quiet invitation to the British High Commissioner in Lagos (1960-1963) Antony Head, 1st Viscount Head (1906-1983), and also United States' Ambassador Joseph Palmer II (1914-1994), who he pressured to persuade their home governments to prevail on the apartheid regime in South Africa against imposing the maximum penalty on Nelson Mandela and others, that produced result. The same quiet diplomacy was used by Wachuku on the matter with U.S. Secretary of State David Dean Rusk (1909-1994) and British Foreign Secretary, Alexander Douglas-Home (1903-1995), who later served Britain as Prime Minister from October 1963 to October 1964. As a result, the South African government yielded to this pressure when it acquitted Lionel Bernstein and slammed life imprisonment terms on Mandela and company.
During the Biafran War (1967-1970), Wachuku fell out with the Government of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1933-2011) for speaking out against the recruitment of child soldiers and was arrested and thrown into detention by the Biafran warlord. A shocked and very surprised Theophilus Danjuma (b. 1938) of the Nigerian Army, who wondered what Nigeria's first Speaker, first UN Ambassador and first Foreign Affairs Minister was doing in detention, released him immediately amidst tight security.
In the Second Republic (1979-1983), Jaja Wachuku operated from the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), twice (1978 and 1983) elected Senator representing Aba Senatorial Zone. At the Senate of Nigeria, he became NPP Leader and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During this period, he embarked on various dangerous secret trips to South Africa for meetings with President Pieter Willem Botha (1916-2006) aka Die Groot Krokodil, to apply pressure for the dismantling of the obnoxious apartheid system; including the unconditional pardon and release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.
Finally, the U.S. Political Officer in Lagos (1964-1965) Ambassador Owen W. Roberts (1924-2012), once noted:
"The Nigerians, whatever their tribe, are a very strong, very assertive group. Foreign Minister Jaja Wachuku was a surprise for many American diplomats beause he considered himself as having a status equivalent to the British, French, German, or Russian Ministers. Wachuku demanded that much attention and respect. The Nigerians were, and have been, very independent. Senior U.S. echelons were not used to dealing with Africans as assertive and as strong minded as the Nigerians were. I found this nice because the Nigerians were absolutely always open with you, and would hit you over the head with whatever the problem was. They were entitled to respect and helped gain it for Africans. Ambassador Matthews was not the kind of person to go in and tell Prime Minister Balewa or foreign Minister Jaja Wachuku how to do things...."
No doubt, the world used to regard us Nigerians very highly. Also back home on Thursday 30th September 2010 in Abuja, Nigeria's President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan conferred a posthumous special Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary Award on Jaja Wachuku for his outstanding contributions towards the development of the country. Indeed as they say, every dog has his day or better still, everyone has their individual triumphs.
• Note that the OAU has since Saturday, 26th May, 2001 in Addis Ababa metamorphosed into the African Union (AU), consisting of 54 African States with Morocco as the only non-member all-African State. It was launched on Tuesday, 9th July, 2002 in South Africa, and host President Thambo Mbeki emerged its first Chairman.