On Sunday 19th August, Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, Founder of the Fourth Dimension Publishing Company LTD, Chancellor of Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), Vice-Chairman, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Founder and Leader of People’s Mandate Party (PMP), pro-democracy and human rights activist, quintessential Pan-Africanist publisher and educationist, author, historian, political scientist, radical scholar and neo-Marxist theoretician, will turn 70 years.
And for those of us across the country whose ideas he shaped; whose thoughts he crystallized; whose lives he molded; whose destiny he nurtured; and who see him from the prism of a mentor, a guide and a teacher, what epistemic resource can we call upon to capture such a subject whose birth was posthumous in nature and essence?
What cognitive or apprehensible schema can unfold a life so diverse and complex, a mind so fecund and capacious, and a social practice so profound and coherent?
I will but try.
Arthur Nwankwo’s forceful emergence on the Nigerian public space was signaled with the publication of his ground-breaking polemic on the Nigerian civil war titled Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra.
Together with Biafra: The Making of a Nation, Nigeria: My People Suffer and other seminal materials on the Igbo question in the Nigerian State he constructed a coherent thesis of a people caught within the haunting dialectics of identity-formation and social becoming in a plural nation-state, and problematized the strategic framework with which they must negotiate and balance the complexities of structural and institutional disequilibria in an unfair and unjust social formation that has turned his people into decentred historical objects.
Yet his pan-Nigerian identity and ideals are near peerless; unsurpassable too are his urgings for a new national patriotic ethos founded on egalitarian principles for the Self and the Other.
With the establishment of Fourth Dimension publishing Company ltd in 1976- which in itself grew out of the Nwankwo-Ifejika and Nwamife publishing enterprises – he re-defined publishing as an art of cultural hermeneutics and the reproduction of knowledge in the Nigerian context; shattered the myths of African strategic, technical and intellectual incapacity in initiating and sustaining a publishing outlet with global best practices and reach, especially given the spatialization of humanistic referents under late, postmodern capitalism; re-drew the Nigerian publishing geographic and ethno-strategic space; and constructed an interventionist paradigm of knowledge reproducibility that incarnated a generation of scholars.
Arthur Nwankwo gave us the concept of cimilicy- a grand thesis or metanarrative on Nigerian democratic possibility whose dialectical organism proceeds from militarizing the civilians and civilianizing the military. In formulating extensive and expansive master discourses on the place and role of the military in Nigeria’s democratization process, he radically demythologized such concepts as “retreat of power”, “negotiated withdrawal and leisurely withdrawal from power” and “intra-elite contradictions and the game of revolving doors,” the problematic of which still haunts a nation already embarrassed by the conceptual and paradigmatic deficiencies of the 1999 political transitional pyrotechnics.
With the birth of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) in 1994, and Arthur Nwankwo’s selection as its Chancellor – a position that made him the movement’s ideological guide and moral conscience – the Eastern flank of the pro-democracy agitation was significantly radicalized in its subsumption of the spectralities of the marginalization of the East (an idea it popularized and foregrounded on the national discourse space) to the restoration of the presidential mandate of late Chief M.K.O. Abiola as a perquisite of national cohesion, stability and sustainable development.
Arthur Nwankwo is a true example of an individual who deliberately elected to commit class suicide; who had all the opportunities to expand his wealth and build the typical Nigerian financial empire; but who cast his lot with the people by first, theorizing about their imbecilized condition in a series of neo-Marxist scholarly works as all organic intellectuals should in the Gramscian sense of the term, and ended up privileging a vibrant participation in their democratic practice.
Arthur Nwankwo suffered series of detentions, intimidations, harassment, and ruin of his businesses between 1990-1998 because of his involvement in the pro-democracy struggle against regime tyranny and obscurantist power posturing. He invested his personal fortune in the struggle and literally turned his private residence- already a more than contingent national centre of intellectual illumination, intersubjective communicative rationality and spirited social dialogics – into a sanctuary for the oppressed and the hunted.
This analysis brings me to that rare quality which the Chancellor possesses in extravagant proportions-COURAGE- and in saying this I want to recount three instances that remarkably demonstrated this. On 24th May, 1994, the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU),during its special confabulation, issued a 30th June, 1994 proclamation to Gen Sani Abacha to quit office after putting in place a Government of National Unity (GNU) which Chief M. K.O. Abiola will lead. It also incarnated the first version of People’s Mandate Party (PMP), with the full complement of registration cards, musically scored Party song, anthem, emblem and slogan.
Thereafter, on 26th May 1994 Arthur Nwankwo and I received a tip-off that a detachment of State Security Service and Nigeria police Personnel will literally “invade” the house and effect out arrest. The Chancellor calmly asked me to prepare myself physically, intellectually and psychologically for the ordeal, as he had already done so himself.
When, eventually , an over 30- man security squad stormed the house, they met us sitting calmly in the upper floor sitting -room. The Chancellor collected his prescription drugs and food supplement bag, stood up, and calmly told the leader of the ‘invading army:” “Let go”. The officer was clearly baffled and visibly taken aback. He immediately collected his wits together, saluted him, and off we marched into our first detention.
Again, a few weeks to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting on Nigeria which held at Edinburgh, Scotland about July, 1997, the Eastern Mandate Union (NADECO) received an invitation from NADECO to partner with it and adopt a common position at the conference. Upon the receipt of what could possibly be classified as an explosive invitation – a singular act that will further cement EMU’s standing as a national pro-democracy platform- Arthur Nwankwo embarked upon wide-ranging consultations among Igbo political leaders on what his reaction to the invitation should be. Without exception, all those he consulted counseled him to decline the offer to participate.
hey were alarmed about the over-exposure and its likely negative consequences without a thought for the national Subalterns who desperately needed an agency for the re-mobilization of their humanity. The pressure was so fierce that I elected to reply on his behalf to late Senator Abraham Adesanya who signed the letter of invitation and politely decline it.
I was already seated in the study of The Chancery struggling on how to proceed when the Chancellor stormed in and commanded me to change the letter to one of robust, unequivocal acceptance, declaring thus: “At times like this, men and women of courage must stand up to be counted. In the absence of heroism, our people are lost forever.
We must attend that meeting”. In spite of all the threats to his person, he led the EMU delegation to the conference, and thereafter embarked upon a blistering International campaign against military despotism in Nigeria, in the USA and several European countries.
Shortly after the CMAG conference, the entire South-West political leadership made up of late Sen. Abraham Adesanya, Late Chief Bola Ige, Late Chief Solanke Onasanya, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olanihun Ajayi, Sen Kofo Akerele and several others took a night bus to The Chancery of the EMU for a strategic meeting with its leadership.
The highlight of the meeting was the re-constitution of NADEO’s leadership as follows: Late Chief Anthony Enahoro (Chairman); Late Sen. Abraham Adesanya (Deputy Chairman); Dr. Arthur Nwankwo (Vice Chairman, South); Air Commodore Dan Suleman (Vice Chairman, North); and Chief Ayo Opadokun (Secretary).
The Chancellor brushed aside the fear and anxiety of the EMU leadership present about his selection and announced his acceptance of not only the offer but also the urgency of the EMU’s institutional purchase into and full application of its intellectual, ideological and strategic resources towards the successful prosecution of the pro-democracy struggle.
Throughout all the periods of our detention at various points between 1994 and 1998, particularly in May 1998 when over Seventy Military, Police and SSS personnel came to arrest just seven or so pro-democracy activists with over 20 vehicles, The Chancellor and myself inclusive, his spirit was always buoyant, his wit as sharp and caustic as ever.
He never lost hope that potent ideas in the margin would one day become immanent national categories, that the struggle will triumph over inhuman odds, or that the oppressed and the dehumanized, the bestialized and the traumatized, will inherit a new Nigeria.
What I cannot speak of now is whether The Chancellor’s incurably optimistic spirit about the enormous Nigerian possibilities has flagged given the present reign of perfumed unreason, insolent simulacrum and fickle-minded idiocy that fester in the land, barely able to deodorize the putrescent spectacle that the contemporary Nigerian condition has become: the sheer kleptocracy of the ruling elite; the weakening of the nation’s historicist consciousness and bonds of fraternal inter-gro