92 DAYS IN POWER, Dr. A.A. Nwafor Orizu, GCON, as Acting President of Nigeria
(Excerpts from page 5 to 10)
History is one of the most important subjects to be taught to younger ones while in school to enable them understand where they are coming from and where they are headed. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, History has been expunged from the curricula probably in a bid to prevent the younger ones from knowing the ugly paths the country had been through.
Below are the brief history of Dr. Nwafor Orizu, the second senate president of Nigeria which would inspire you never to quit and pursue excellence in all you do!
It was while teaching at Onitsha that Dr. Nwafor Orizu saw Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who had come home to give a lecture in the Court Room. Zik was already an American trained elite and his speech that day so touched Dr. Nwafor Orizu that his life never remained the same. According to Dr. Nwafor Orizu (1994:111) in his autobiography, Liberty or Chains: Africa Must Be:
I was moved by Azikiwe’s appeal to patriotism. A new era dawned in my thought. I was now not only concerned with my getting education, but imbued with some hatred for racial superiority and imperialism. I saw that love of one’s own town was not enough, Azikiwe was glorifying Africa, and not just the Ibo land or Nigeria. As if by magic, my boyhood attitudes left me, and my interest in Nnewi alone departed.
I returned to the teachers’ compound at the close of Azikiwe’s lecture a changed man. I was more determined …, more impatient with my surroundings.
One morning that 1937, after some initial failed attempts to speak with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, he courageously went to his place at Onitsha. He wanted to understand and follow the process of acquiring the same sort and breath of learning Zik acquired. After Zik learnt he was a son of Orizu of Nnewi and that he had gained admission into Achimota College, his interest in him was kindled.
He promised to ask Lincoln University to take Orizu if his people can afford fifty pounds a year for four years and if he can afford the transport expenses to America as well as work on the campus if need be. Psychologically disconnected from his noisy surroundings of the teachers’ premises at Onitsha and yearning for higher light and surroundings, Dr. Nwafor Orizu took a month’s leave to visit relatives at Kano, Jos, Zaria, Zakirai, Nguru and Zinder with the object of raising four hundred pounds which would carry him through Lincoln University at fifty pounds a year for four years.
Every relative he met gave him words of encouragement and assurance. None gave him cash. It was also at this period that his immediate elder brother, Nwokejiobi, and later his immediate younger brother, Okoli, died. He got a telegram from Zik congratulating him for obtaining Lincoln University Scholarship along with Zik’s private secretary, A.K. Disu.
The registration was slated for September 1937. He resigned his teaching appointment, hoping to travel with Disu to America. Unfortunately, after the news of his imminent departure had gotten to almost every Ibo man, including through the pages of the newspaper, West African Pilot, where Zik had published it, Dr. Nwafor Orizu was not able to get the funds promised him by his people and the ship left without him.
Desolate, he returned from Lagos soliciting for funds for American Education, with the irony that he was the first Ibo student that Zik offered American Scholarship. The sad news spread among Nnewians and all over Nigeria. Unrelentingly and with great and irrevocable determination, Dr. Nwafor Orizu wandered around Nigeria seeking for funds to travel to America, despite pleas by his immediate family to stop that line of action.
He worked with Zik for a while in the West African Pilot press at the Circulation Branch. Then after obtaining an assurance from Zik that he would see that Lincoln University does not withdraw the scholarship, he left Lagos for Kano, then Aba and finally Onitsha where he discovered that Mbonu Ojike, Etuka Okala, Nnodu Okongwu, Nwankwo Chukwuemeka, George Mbadiwe, Okechukwu Ikejiani, Kingsley Mbadiwe, were ready to leave for the United States to Lincoln University!
He proceeded to Nnewi and saw his mother and then picking up the sands of Nnewi, he made up his mind that if he never travelled to the United States, he would never see the soil of Nnewi again. And if such a situation arose, he would look at the sand when he felt nostalgic of his fatherland.
After assurances again from relatives in Kano that they would send money for his trip to America, he arrived Lagos where the seven Ibos above had gathered to proceed to America.
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Again, Zik gave publicity to the event, publishing the pictures of Orizu and the seven others in the front page of the West African Pilot under the title, “The Eight Argonauts” who were to go to America to win the Golden Fleece back to Africa. It was a matter of national interest, for all Nigerians were alerted.
On November 28, 1938, the day of departure, the promised money did not arrive for Orizu and the number of the Argonauts was at once reduced to seven. Again, as in the case of Disu, Dr. Nwafor Orizu had to wave goodbye to his colleagues who began later than he to struggle for the Golden Fleece. It was a heart-rending moment. But a remarkable youth at the time, Dr. Nwafor Orizu thrust himself into the harsh and elusive world.
He left Lagos at once and travelled to Kano, weeping. He was greatly encouraged by Zik not to lose hope. Everywhere he went, people were sorry for him that having gone to Lagos twice, he had failed to go to America. In later years, Dr. Nwafor reminisced that it was a period of temporary insanity for him. While travelling on a train from Aba to Kano, he met Green Mbadiwe at Kaduna junction. Green Mbadiwe was a great philanthropist.
Without batting an eyelid and with no solicitation from Nwafor Orizu, he miraculously facilitated Dr. Nwafor Orizu’s journey to America. It is important to note here that this same Green Mbadiwe, to a considerable extent, sponsored Azikiwe, Ojike and Ozuomba Mbadiwe. These men later became very instrumental in building a modern Nigeria. Thus, in December 1938, with only ten pounds in his pocket, Nwafor Orizu travelled by ship to the United States, arriving there by February 1939.
Upon settling down at Lincoln University which was dominated by African Americans, he met the other seven Argonauts and also got acquainted with Kwame Nkrumah (future first president of an independent Ghana), then a student at Lincoln too. A very upwardly mobile young man, Dr. Nwafor Orizu felt that he needed a more broader education than the B.A. Commerce which Lincoln offered him and, leaving his friends in the eastern part of the United States, he soon struggled his way first to Howard University and then to Ohio State University in the Midwest of the United States.
He rejected the admission at Howard because of perceived imperialism which he sensed in an important member of faculty in the school. While working on odd jobs for his meals and board at Ohio, he met Dr. Falkenberg, a devout American Christian who took him as a son. Dr. Falkensberg helped him to raise funds for his school expenses by inviting him to speak before many Christian congregations and churches all over the Midwest. Through these speeches on Africa and its people, Dr. Nwafor Orizu was able not only to introduce the then unknown Africa to the Americans, but also to raise funds to take care of his university expenses.
This speech making became a part of his permanent job throughout his undergraduate days in the Ohio State University. He did not only talk to those church groups, but also extended to other social groups and clubs and sometimes over the radio airwaves across America. He majored in Political Science, and was able to be grounded in International Law and Psychology. He began to write a book on Africa at Ohio State University which metamorphosed to his classic book, Without Bitterness, published in 1944 while he was in Columbia University for his Masters degree.
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It was Dr. Nwafor Orizu, while still a first-year student, who initiated the African Students Association of the USA and Canada which brought all African students in America together and gave them a conscious voice. He had a letter ratified with John Kareffa-Smart of Sierra Leone (who was already a graduate) and sent to all African students.
Along with Mbonu Ojike and K.O. Mbadiwe, he reviewed its first constitution which he had initially drafted and they came up with the popular Ohio Constitution. Kwame Nkrumah served as first President of the Association, having struggled to bring into existence a similar organization but had to defer to the idea by Nwafor Orizu. Orizu served as Vice President.
He later became its President and established its magazine, “The African Interpreter” with the headquarters of the Association in his hostel house. This Association was supported by the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his wife, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt.