The First Nigerian President Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe ( 1904- 1996) was indeed an enigma of no less order. His towering personality makes him to be the greatest Nigerian ever in history. But Who was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe? Who was his true biological father? What if all that the public knows about him was the untold truth? Then there is the raging question of who truly owns a child? Is it the Mother or the Father? Some traditions require that the man has to fulfill his marital obligations to lay claim to a child! But others are lenient in such issues.
In considering the aforementioned posers about one’s Fatherhood, let’s concede the fact that
fatherhood is not just blood, but a responsibility. No one can reasonably lay claim to a child one abandoned only to return years later for the same child, cared for by a single mother. That would be insensitive! That is not morally right.
But the question here is, what if the man was not allowed access to his son because tradition says he should not? What about the culture that says it is not the man but the woman that owns a child if the man failed to perform his marital vows?
In which case, she left with the child and got married to another man who fostered him and trained him to achieve his educational dreams, only for the child to find out the truth that his biological father is somewhere. What would be his reactions? How could he tell that the man whom he thought all his life to be his father was not his biological father? And that his father was somewhere else!
The heart of a woman is truly a deep blue sea of secrets!
That for Zik’s Mother to tell him the truth about his origin, the boy had to wait until the time was right. He must know his roots, for that was his spiritual freedom, but he must be trained to accept the fact he had gone too far in the journey of life to return home to his father.
She had told him, the story of her youth, and the love of her life, about that handsome dark tall Ijaw fellow whom she met at Agbere in some decades ago during when both of them were working at the Royal Niger Company. She was a staff, and he was a carpenter. They met and fell in love, and one thing led to another. Then she was naive about her culture and tradition, thinking love was all that mattered in the whole world. She became pregnant but the man was struggling to make it in life and was not ready for a child. A misunderstanding ensued and she left with the pregnancy.
Years after, their paths crossed again at Onitsha where he was a fisherman. But this time she was carrying his baby, and when he saw the baby, he saw a reflection of himself; from the dark colour to his facial features. He apologized and promised to marry her, but she was already married. He came too late.
She had already named him Benjamin, but that was later changed by the boy when he realized the truth about his paternity to ‘ Nnamdi’ meaning ‘ My father is somewhere’. And that was how Pa Lewis Apam lost the battle of life and his love to an Onitsha man. And so, she left and returned no more. Sadly, that was the last time he set his eyes on his biological son until the boy grew up and became the president of Nigeria.
But God is dynamic in answering the prayers of men. According to the story made available by the family, Chief Ezonbodo in his political journey came across Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, and when he introduced himself as an Ijaw man from Agbere town, immediately their blood bond was rekindled. They were brothers from the same bloodline. Dr Zik sent for his father Chief Lewis Apam, and when Hon. Ezonbodo Ninetry brought the two together, they were indeed identical. Dr Zik saw himself in a mirror as his biological father stood before him.
Thereafter, they became close. The lost relationship between Father and son was restored. Dr Zik in the name of politics visited his Father’s place Agbere more than twice and spent a night or two. He took his father to Lagos in his house, most of the time until the man died. He knows his siblings and half brothers, like the great footballer Onyekachi Justice Apam’s father who was equally married to an Igbo woman from Abia state. Today, many has mistaken the great Nigerian footballer as an Igbo man, but he is Ijaw by origin, paternally. In his case, his father fortunately had paid the marital vows of his wife, so the children were free to announce their father’s name Mr Apam proudly anywhere, even though his name Onyekachi could be misleading as the public most times thought he is an Igbo man.
But that was not the case of the Great Zik of Africa. His case was different. He had to consider his society, the Igbo society he had come to be associated with to make his political name and fame. Again, he had to consider the good man who married his mother and adopted him as his son. Again, the larger world that looked upon him as a man with a perfect childhood and upbringing. No, he couldn’t handle the controversies. After all, what is life without dignity, without power, without honour?
And he was not a Moses to have traded all these things for merely an origin of birth. No way, let history set the records straight, when I am gone, he must have thought. But to a large extent, it was not a secret. The entire Ijaw leadership knew the story, both home and abroad. He sponsored his brother Chief Ezonbodo Ninetry politically as a first generation politician that he was seen as a demi-god in the whole of Western Ijaw Division.
The Ijaws celebrated their son Dr Nnamdi when he was alive until the day he died. Interestingly that was the lost Ijaw son who became an Igbo man by tradition.
To many, it is no longer relevant, after all, some truths are better left unsaid, especially when it has lost its relevance and time. But what is life anyway, if not to relive the memories we share with our loved ones. Apart from that, like every tribe with their own traditions and cultures, so is the Ijaw man’s culture, forbidden him to be part of a secret, merely for the sake of the living who lives in secrecy all our lives. According to the tradition of the Ijaw man, it is a taboo for one to bury a man with his secret. Such secret could be kept, but not when the man has died. For in death, the spirit of man is pure before his Creator, and every other worldly desires are purged, including his many covered up secrets.
Ironically, tradition holds the living responsible for not saying it, for by saying it, you are freeing the soul of the dead from eternal destruction, if you don’t the spirit in the life beyond suffers in damnation. Reasons being, that it is only in life that greed, lust of power, envy, and all material things are needed. But in the spirit, when the flesh has given up its grip on the soul of a man, he becomes free. As such, all that’s needed is the truth, nothing but the truth- which is Ijo in meaning.
Hence, it is our obligation to honour our blood brother, father, uncle, who in life had taken the effort to be identified with his people the best he could as a human being. He may not be perfect by not changing his foster name, but he was a good man to the Ijaws, and there is no way one can make good and enemy of perfection.
And when he died, the Ijaws in London equally saw a reason to celebrate him as their own in grand style.
Though his silence on the matter was understandable. But think about it, how could the President of Nigeria, the greatest personality with the self appellation ‘ Zik of Africa’ be a man of double origin? That his true full-blooded biological father was an Ijaw man? Of course, that could bring some considerable shame to his public image and ego. Therefore he hoped to carry the secret to the grave. But ironically it was not a secret to his brothers of Agbere town.
Sadly that is the world in which we live, and has been raised, a cruel tradition that denies a father from his son simply because one could not meet up the rites demanded of him. Strangely the life of a man is policed daily by traditions- they over rule our actions and stories.
Strange enough, for one to know that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was a son of his mother who later identified his roots with the great ijaw tribe as his paternal home, one could see it through his actions.
The Owele of Onitsha built his University at Nsuka instead of Onitsha. He equally built his beautiful home, the Onuye Haven in his mother’s place instead of Onitsha, place of his fostered father.
All things point to one direction, he was truly a son of his mother, and in all his life, he knew his father was somewhere. He secretly worshiped him and held that memory dearly to his heart. It pained him to know all these things yet he could not say it, and that made him sad, and such, was holding those grudges against the world.
Interestingly, family sources further confirmed that before the demise of Lewis Apam (his father), Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe directed his father with financial provisions to build a house for him in his home town of Agbere. This was a registration of undeniable acceptability of his kinsmen. As a man of uncommon intellectual stamina and moral fervidness or audacity, the Great Zik of Africa realized that mother’s love is Supreme but father’s love is a bowel of strength and courage. But unfortunately the house project was overtaken by events.
Culled from the book: ‘Heroes of the Ijaw Nation’ Author, Gesikeme Akparakata