Nduka Eze: A Life Dedicated to Selfless Public Service


Kingsley Azuh
The problem with the African society is that we do not examine our past to plan for the future. The society is rotten today because we do not take retrospective look at the lives of our hero’s past. We look and judge individuals by the wealth they have acquired, without asking to know how they got them. In so doing we neglect and forget those who helped to shape the society for good.

There is no gainsaying the fact that what the nation needs today are men and women that are prepared to offer unconditional service to their father land, individuals who seek hard work, integrity and perseverance as means to an end and who are ready not only to shun evil but fight it.

It is the attitude to life that we exhibit that guide the youths in their approach to life. The youths are the leaders of tomorrow, they are the pillars that hold the future of this country and whatever orientation they are given will surely determine the kind of leadership that they will offer to the country in the near future. If they received bad orientation, the future of the country becomes bleak and dreary, but when they are properly brought up through the implantation of legacies that endure, the future becomes bright for the country.

Those who have the interest of this country at heart should begin to lay emphasis on the things that build a nation and not on things that tend to destroy it. The youths should be taught the invaluable benefits of hard work and integrity.
The get – rich quick syndrome that is plaguing the society should be discouraged while those who made it through hard work and service to their fatherland should be celebrated and book of honour opened for them.

There is the urgent need for the society to start recognising hard work as a means to an end so that the youth can see the dignity in labour and change their get rich quick attitude. To achieve this, leaders of today must lead by example; they must do things that are worthy and noble, they must emphasise hard work, integrity and perseverance in their daily activities and actions, and they must be bold enough to condemn what is condemnable, no matter whose ox is gored.

We, in the Truth newspaper, have taken it upon ourselves to keep searching for our heroes who left indelible marks on the sands of time, and portray them to the younger generations of our youths as role models.

In this edition, we bring to you Nduka Eze, a man who left indelible marks on the sands of time. He has been immortalised with a statue that stands gallantly at the busy Umuaji area in the heart of Asaba, the Delta State capital.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the early history of Nigeria’s nationalist struggle and quest for independence would be incomplete without the contribution of the likes of Nduka Eze who gave everything to see the end of colonial administration in Nigeria.

He started his public life as a trade unionist in UAC (represented by Unamag ) and NNFL union and this formed the basis for the emergence of the first Nigerian Labour Congress formed by Michael Imoudu, F.O Coker and Nduka Eze. This platform became a vehicle for radical nationalist expression with a link to the NCNC, which was the political wing for the struggle. In due course, in concert with Kola Balogun, Ajuluchukwu, Abiodun Aloba and other radical intellectuals, they formed the Zikist Movement to set a different course and tone that suggested they were impatient with the gradual and accommodating approach of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe towards the colonial administration.

It was on the platform of this movement that he made some of the seminal statements of early post World War II Nigerian radicalism that heralded the struggle for Nigerian independence. One of the iconic speeches was, “A Discourse on Violence and Pacifism as Instruments of Struggle for freedom,” and the importance of the ideas addressed in this speech was later echoed by Frantz Fanon’s famous work, “The Wretched of the Earth.”

Nduka Eze’s paper addressed the liberating role of violence in national struggle and led to several arrests and court appearances for sedition and treason against him. The colonial administration had a difficult job suppressing his intellectual fire and ability to impress his fellow Nigerians with the urgency of their quest for self-determination and dignity. This work was shortly followed by yet another incendiary publication titled, “UAC – An Octopus and How it treats its African Staff,” which was a powerful critique of the operations and labour practices of the colonial capitalist giant associated with British colonial conquest and exploitation.

He also published a paper titled, “The Working Class Movement and the New Awakening.” All these intellectual efforts were remarkable for a young man whose formal education at the time in question was below the O-Level grade, as he was unable to continue his education beyond Class 3 due to lack of support and funds.

These radical activities awakened thoughts and provoked a feeling of pride and self-belief within the populace and in due course assisted in rallying a huge following when he called out the first successful national strike in 1945. In partnership with Michael Imoudu, they produced a comprehensive set of demands for the treatment of Nigerian workers titled, “Memorandum of Demand.” This was a set of requirements sent to the colonial administration that included standards for improved wages, better working conditions, increased educational opportunities for Nigerian workers, etc. It was significant as probably one of the earliest Nigerian formulations of a minimum wage package.

Nduka Eze was therefore a major force in the progressive emergence of Nigerian radicalism as a distinct political and intellectual current with its own visions of a liberated country. In this connection, we mention the sterling contributions of forgotten heroes like HRM Osita Agwuna (late Igwe of Enugwu Ukwu & Umunri ), Mokwugo Okoye, S.G. Ikoku, Raji Abdallah, and others whose selfless contributions remain unacknowledged in our annals.

Nduka-Eze’s role and exertions in radical unionist agitation prepared him for a life in nationalist politics and in his early 20s found himself on the crest of a national political career in the wings of the great titans of the age – Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Nduka Eze was a conviction politician and found the limitations of party politics and its compromises most uncongenial. He was therefore never quite at peace with party discipline as his God was never man but the Truth. In keeping with this creed he fell out with the Great Zik and in due course found a home in the Action Group. It was he who brought Chief Awolowo and yhe Action Group to the Ibo part of the Mid-west region while Anthony Enahoro held forth in the Benin Province. Within a short time he became the chairman of Asaba province, which extended from Asaba to Agbor – a feat he accomplished in his 20s.

His desire to improve the lot of his people saw programmes being availed the Western Region, like free education being introduced within Asaba province and many benefited from educational scholarships within the country and abroad. One of such beneficiaries was Chief (Dr) Phillip onianwa – the late Akwue of Asaba who became the first Nigerian nuclear physicist and was celebrated by the press upon his triumphant return to the country in the late 1960s. He also introduced the Olinzele Chieftaincy Title system in Asaba to assist with the governance of Asaba town council and this system has endured till today and forms the present basis for the Asagba of Asaba’s cabinet. Not the least of his achievements during this period was the establishment of the Asaba General Hospital, known today as the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba.

His youthful effort with others resulted in the independence the country enjoys today, but unlike a few others, his career was unique because with all the responsibility given to him early in his life he led a life devoid of corruption and greed. As soon as Nigeria gained her independence he felt the time had come to do something about his education and in 1960 left the country to the UK for further studies. He attended and acquired his law degree from the London School of Economics and was in due course admitted as a Barrister in the Inner Temple, UK and in Nigeria.

As events unfolded in Nigeria in the 60s, leading to the crisis that precipitated the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, he found his heart once again at home and seeing the house he contributed so much to being dismantled he felt obliged to return home.

The crisis that led to the war was such that anyone with nationalist leanings and love of the country was going to have a difficult time with conflict of loyalties. He had fought for Nigeria as a unit and was keen to see it continue but the reality of the times and the events inevitably presented uncomfortable choices. He was invited by the Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to assist Biafra and he accepted to do the best he could to bridge some understanding between both sides. In times of war realities on the ground requires clarity of loyalties and in due course he fell out with Odumegwu-Ojukwu in Biafra and was held under house arrest for some time.

Matters improved subsequently and he served Biafra until the end of the war, trying to create some understanding between Biafra and the Eastern European bloc where he had considerable friendships and influence, having been a socialist. At the end of the war he was arrested by the Nigerian government and had the distinct misfortune of serving terms of imprisonment in Nigeria for his role in Biafra. Nduka Eze therefore qualified from this experience as one who spoke truth to power and regarded Truth as his only refuge. He had an uneasy time with the military regime and was constantly harassed and arrested for his public posture and complaints about military governance. His law practice at the cessation of the war (Nduka Eze, Umeh Ezeoke & Co) involved legal representations of several people who lost their property under the controversial Abandoned Property legislation promulgated during the war. His role in standing for the victims did not bring welcome attentions in his direction from the federal government, which was not keen on interfering or questioning the moral and ethical basis of the legislation.

Following the lifting of the ban on party political activities in 1979 he joined others to form the Nigerian Peoples Party and was jointly with Omo Omoruiyi its first national secretary general. He could not abide Zik’s entry into the NPP and left with Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim to form the GNPP, becoming its national secretary general. His outing during this period left a sour taste as he considered that politics had become a dirty game played mainly for selfish interests and he seemed uncomfortable in the atmosphere then prevailing.

Nduka Eze passed on in 1983 at the age of 58 years in what seemed to many at the time as a long life spent in the thick of national affairs. This was so because he came to national prominence at the age of 18 years and remained a relevant player and reference point on national issues and controversies for a considerable time.

In reviewing a life spent under the glare of public events one necessarily looks to strains and currents that gave meaning and definition to it. The greatest legacy suggested by his life is the lesson that the importance of a person is derived not by longevity of the life or the amount of wealth acquired or high office of state attained but by the nature of sacrifice made for the benefit of others and the selfless and courageous dedication to the improvement of society achieved.

By this measure Nduka Eze stands tall as a titan of his time. Perhaps, one day the country will ask the right question of what constitutes greatness and the sort of people to honour and remember as good examples for others to emulate. He has eight children, four of whom, like him, are lawyers.
––Azuh writes from Asaba