Uzor Maxim Uzoatu pays tribute to Nwankwo, writer, publisher, and a radical with a cause
The inimitable Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, was interred in his home in Ajalli, Anambra State, on Thursday, December 10, in this year of our lord. He passed away at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu in the afternoon of Saturday, February 1, 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak put his interment on hold until now.
In his cherished lifetime, Arthur Nwankwo spoke truth to power with unconquerable courage. His clarity of vision was nonpareil. He had an endearing common touch, mixing with the mighty and the lowly with consummate ease.
An author, publisher, polemicist, columnist, administrator, socialist, politician, intellectual, activist etc, Arthur Nwankwo was indeed a remarkable legend. He was to all around him “a strategic source”, according to the eminent journalist Uche Ezechukwu. He knew the roots of the who’s who in the vast terrain of Nigerian cleavages and could give precise information on literally every mover and shaker anytime, anywhere.
As a history maker per excellence, Arthur Nwankwo through his trailblazing publishing company, Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu, published the vast majority of books on the Nigeria-Biafra war.
It can even be argued that without the intervention of Arthur Nwankwo, a procrastinating Chinua Achebe would not have published The Trouble with Nigeria. Achebe’s words in his Preface to the little masterpiece are here: “To Arthur Nwankwo, publisher, who asked for this book years ago, listed it in his catalogue, then waited patiently, only occasionally prodding delicately; to Mamman Vatsa whose kind but soldierly poem on my fiftieth birthday bluntly reminded me of the unredeemed promise of a certain publisher’s list…”
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka penned in his memoirs, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, that Arthur Nwankwo was the personage who fainted amid the mammoth crowd that came to Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, to welcome home the renowned playwright from self-exile after the death of General Sani Abacha. Well, Arthur denied that he ever fainted, stressing that the fainting episode was just a figment of Soyinka’s vast imagination!
Controversy sits on the head of Arthur Nwankwo like an eagle feather. He had a spine-chilling encounter with General Olusegun Obasanjo which made him to write the book Before I Die. His missile-like book, How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State, elicited end-of-the-world-like battles. He eventually released a book on the concomitant sedition charge, his imprisonment and acquittal. It was through Arthur Nwankwo’s court case that sedition was thrown out of the Nigerian statute books.
Arthur Nwankwo was an astute believer in the power of the written word, and he was as prolific as they come. Starting out with his 1972 title, Nigeria: The Challenge of Biafra, Arthur Nwankwo wrote well over 50 books on politics, the economy, literature, etc.
Born on August 19, 1942 in Ajalli, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Arthur Nwankwo was educated at Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA, and Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He began his working life at Gulf Oil Headquarters, Pittsburgh. With the start of the war in his native Nigeria he was involved in the Propaganda Directorate of Biafra and served as the editor of the Biafra Newsletter.
When the war ended in 1970 he took the option of rebuilding his beloved Igbo land by serving as an insider in the refinement of minds through publishing, first as a co-founder of Nwamife Publishers, Enugu, and then Fourth Dimension.
He joined efforts with his compatriots such as Chinua Achebe, Mokwugo Okoye, Flora Nwapa, Cyprian Ekwensi, Obi Egbuna, etc., to unleash the literary ferment east of the Niger that helped heal the wounds of the devastating war.
He was quite close to Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. A stay in Arthur Nwankwo’s New Heaven home in Enugu was almost always an intellectual party. Meeting and arguing with Chief Chuba Okadigbo, for instance, was always enlightening, especially with the dogged politician dismissing all your arguments as being “sophomoric”!
It was in Arthur Nwankwo’s house that he introduced me to Okadigbo’s former wife, Prof Miriam Ikejiani, and her then army officer beau, Henry Clark, with these words: “We are taking Anambra beauty to the Ijaw people via JP Clark’s younger brother.”
One day I was having a discussion with Arthur Nwankwo when Orji Uzor Kalu, before he became Abia State Governor, came to be with us only for the publisher to say: “Orji, go to Danic Hotel and enjoy because you will not understand the intellectual disputation we are having here!”
When Arthur Nwankwo set up his Outlook newspapers in Enugu he hired me as a consultant.
He never hid his views about Nigeria, as can be seen in these words: “I have always maintained that Nigeria’s only safety valve lies in a roundtable discussion to fashion out a framework for the continued existence of Nigeria as a corporate entity. The best we have gotten close to the Republican constitution of 1963 was the outcome of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference and the last one convoked by former President Jonathan. What Buhari owes Nigeria is the political will to implement the recommendations of those constitutional conferences. Any other way leads to doom and self-destruction!”
A Vice-Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that fought Abacha to the death, his membership of political parties such as Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) clearly showcased his broadmindedness and radical bent. The Chancellor of the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU), he was indeed the strongman of war as his traditional title, Ikeogu of Ajalli, proclaimed.
Unforgettable – that’s the last word for Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo.