Saturday, September 13, 2014

K. O. MBADIWE: CELEBRATED NIGERIAN NATIONALIST, PAN-AFRICANIST, FEMINIST ADVOCATE AND A WORDSMITH KNOWN FOR HIS FLAMBOYANCE AND POLITICAL SHOWMANSHIP

Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe or K O Mbadiwe(1915–1990) was a celebrated Nigerian nationalist, Pan-Africanist, politician, feminist advocate, statesman and former government minister. He was one time Minister of Lands, Minister of Trade and Commerce, and Minister of Aviation. He was also appointed as the first and so far, the only "Ambassador Extra-Ordinary and Plenipotentiary" of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. KO, popularly known as "Man of Timber and Calibre" was a larger than life character with awesome accolades; he was the Agadagbachiriuzo of Arondizuogu, the Ononenyi of Orlu, the Maye of Lagos, the great eagle around whose name many legends are spun.
<b>I ORIGINATED THE SINGLE TENURE CONCEPT</b>
Dr Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe, celebrated Nigerian nationalist, Pan-Africanist, politician, feminist advocate, statesman and former government minister. 

As Uche Ohia (2008) put it, next to the celebrated Nigerian scholar, politician, last Governor-General and first ceremonial president Nnamdi "Zik" Azikiwe, "K.O ranks among the greatest nationalists of Igbo extraction that ever trod this land. This colossal image was recaptured by another orator and hero Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who wrote in a befitting tribute "K.O was grand, his actions grandiose, his speeches grandiloquent". He is the father of the dashing and  popular Nigerian Igbo billionaire and auto-freak Ambassador Greg Mbadiwe, who owns vintage cars, fancy speed boats, and collection of most expensive and trendy hats and wrist watches.

Greg Mbadiwe, son of famous K O Mbadiwe looking the part in his Emmy Collins London monogramed panneled black top with red details. Courtesy http://diarybyemmy.com/297

Mbadiwe, an Igbo, was a central figure in Nigerian political life for more than forty years. Starting in 1936 as a protégé of Nnamdi Azikiwe, then Nigeria’s most renowned nationalist, Mbadiwe
by the late 1940s had become a frontline nationalist, and, next to Tafawa Balewa from the north who became prime minister in 1957, Mbadiwe was the most important figure in the Nigerian federal government between 1952 and Nigeria’s first military coup in 1966.
During this time he held a succession of important cabinet positions and was the parliamentary leader of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which was in a ruling alliance with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). In contrast, his older prominent political contemporaries, Azikiwe of the Eastern Region, Igbo leader of the NCNC; Obafemi Awolowo, Yoruba leader of the Action Group; Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region, and Fulani, leader of
the NPC, all carved out their political careers totally or largely at the regional level. Throughout his political career Mbadiwe operated at the national level. It has been stated that Mbadiwe “was one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian State.”
He “was indisputably the most colorful, flamboyant and most glamorous politician of his time.” His gracious yet forceful personality; his colorful robes; his inventive, picturesque speech; his progressive ideas and his unabashed patriotism made him an object of adoration by his followers who bestowed on him a slew of sobriquets all indicating purposeful strength. “A Man of Caliber and Timber” was the most popular, but among others were “The Iron Man of the East,” “The Caterpillar,” and “The Juggernaut.” He was a frontline nationalist and politician, an avowed patriot
and a leading Nigerian statesman. A staunchly pan-Africanist and internationalist figure, he was obsessed with the idea that Nigeria was potentially a great nation and worked assiduously toward that end.

Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (center), head of the Academy of African Arts and Research, which is presenting the festival, talking to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, sponsor and Guest of Honor of the African Dance Festival. with Mbadiwe was Mazi Mbonu Ojike (aka Boycot King) who came from the University of Chicago representing the African students. Image: Bettmann Collection' Circa Monday evening, December 14, 1943 at the Carnegie Hall.

As Nigeria's most flamboyant politician and wordsmith, Nigerian writer Ndubisi Nwafor-Ejelinma avers in his book "Ndi-Igbo of Nigeria: Identity Showcase" published in 2012, "The Man of Timber and Calibre. K O was the most flamboyant, 'superlative' 'bombastic' indefatigable political demagogue on the Nigerian political scene in the immediate post independence era."  In 1953 when NCNC won 72 out 84 seats of Eastern House Assembly elections, Mbadiwe`s forceful role in the the political drama that occurred earned him the sobriequet of "the Iron Man of the East."
Mbadiwe was one of the seven brilliant young men who were inspired and encouraged by Dr Nnamdi "Zik" Azikiwe to sail to United States "in search of the Golden Fleece" in December 1938. The group includes Mazi Mbonu Ojike aka Boycott King, Otuka Okala, Dr Nnodu Okongwu, Engr. Nwanko Chukwuemeka, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, Dr. Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor Orizu and George Igbodebe Mbadiwe.  Mbadiwe always referred to this group as "Seven Argonauts." "Even before he left home in 1938, age 23, to study in the United States, he had already emerged as a full-fledged nationalist and businessman. In his nine-year stay, he carved out the most spectacular career ever accomplished by a foreign student in the United States. Capitalizing on the profound new interest in Africa created by World War II, Mbadiwe harnessed the small group of fellow African students and won the support of liberal whites and African Americans, thus becoming perhaps the leading pan-African spokesman in the United States. To facilitate his role, he was instrumental in founding the African Students Association in 1941 and in 1943 the African
Academy of Arts and Research, which organized lectures, conferences, cultural events and publications. His social reach extended to the White House where twice he was the guest of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who became a staunch supporter of his Academy, as did a host of prominent black and white Americans. The publication on March 15, 1943, of his first book, British and Axis Aims in Africa, predictably anti-colonial and pro-Africa, naturally added to his prestige and influence" (Lynch, 2012)
It is said that on his return from the US in 1948 after completion of his studies, K O took an exhibition tour of the country with a movie he had done in US; he tagged the tour "Operation Greater Tomorrow" as a promotion of African Arts and Science.
Mbadiwe was the most pro-Western of his colleagues. In a Cold War setting the NCNC and other major Nigerian parties opted for a foreign policy of neutrality and nonalignment. However, Mbadiwe’s own Democratic Party of Nigeria and the Cameroons (DPNC), formed in 1958, had
among its foreign policy goals “the reinforcement of our friendship with the United States” and “the proclamation of our interest in American Negroes.” In Nigeria he was proud to be known as “Mr.
America.” Throughout his life he maintained strong links with leading black and white Americans.
According to Dr. Hollis R. Lynch, Professor Emeritus of History Columbia University and author of the biographical work "K. O. Mbadiwe: A Nigerian Political Biography, 1915-1990," Mbadiwe was a supreme statesman. His statesmanship derived from his patriotic fervor for Nigeria. More than any other Nigerian he was preoccupied with promoting its unity, stability, and development. He was Nigeria’s biggest booster, and during times of crisis “he was invariably in the vanguard of those who sought to mediate, to contain, to conciliate, to compromise.” Whatever the shortcomings of politicians, he was unwavering in his belief that Nigeria’s future should be as a vibrant democratic nation. This is why he was so actively involved in the drafting of the constitution that would return Nigeria to a presidential-style democracy after thirteen years of military rule.
As a strong believer of united Nigeria devoid of tribalism and suspicion, when the Northern Nigerian party, NPC legislators lead by their leader, Mallam Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of  Sokoto and Mallam Ibrahim Imam of Bornu, felt betrayed and refused to be pressured into accepting 1956 as the year for Nigeria`s independence, Mbadiwe chastised them verbally and called their action as "mischievous.... and an insult to the principles of democracy." Mbadiwe stood out as “a leader who never discriminated among the various ethnic groups.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was deeply democratic. He was accessible, a consensus builder, tolerant of long debates and discussions, and an excellent organizer.He bemoaned the "little minds," the "little visions" and the widespread mutual suspicion that pervaded Nigeria: "your brother is suspicious of you, your country-man is fearful of you; the North is suspicious of the East and the East is suspicious of the West, and the West of the others." He contended that the Northerners fear of the South is "unfounded and retrograde....they are the sons of men who led us to self government. Before British thought of having Ministers.... the Hausa states....had already adopted ministerial form of government and their history has been a great inspiration to us all." He asserted that the North is "the great custodian of the medieval heritage of Nigeria," that it had "an enormous reservoir of goodwill" throughout the country, and Northerners should thus join the front ranks in the struggle for political freedom. He remained optimistic that there "was a great future" for Nigeria and resolved that "we will not falter, we will not equivocate."
No Nigerian politician was more responsible for establishing the identity of Nigeria than Mbadiwe. Years after its independence in 1960, Nigeria still did not have an established identity internationally: It was often confused with Liberia and Algeria. However, in his travels abroad, Mbadiwe attracted considerable media attention and aggressively promoted Nigeria. The response of the Manchester Guardian of July 4, 1955, was typical. It confirmed to readers that Mbadiwe was “known to his admirers as ‘Knock Out’,” but he was also “a most genial diplomat,” and the newspaper added that “wherever he goes he makes a most notable figure in his colorful Nigerian dress.” His attempts at projecting Nigeria internationally can further be seen by three events he engineered that generated substantial international publicity: the holding in Nigeria of the 1962 world middleweight championship fight of Dick Tiger, an Igbo Nigerian; the inauguration in 1964 of a Nigerian Airways weekly flight between Lagos and New York; and the unsuccessful attempt in
1965 to win for Lagos the headquarters of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). "It is said that as a Minister of Aviation he structured the Nigerian Airways partnership with the Pan American Airways and took his native Igbo exotic acrobatic Atilogwu dancers and two royal trumpeters from Kano on the maiden flight from Lagos to Nigeria which he tagged "Operation Fantastic`."
The internationalism of Mbadiwe and his enormous capacity for organization and publicity are clearly seen in his successful attempt to build the Ojike Memorial Hospital in Arondizuogu in honor of his close friend and fellow patriot, Mbonu Ojike, who died prematurely in 1956. It was a highly ambitious project estimated to cost the large sum of about £1 million, but Mbadiwe was able to use his vast global contacts to raise the funds. Its construction was interrupted by the civil war, but the hospital was opened in 1974 with great fanfare. Such an effort remains unmatched.
Older Nigerians remember him for his flair and appetite for coinages and usage of jaw-breaking bombastic words especially as an originator of phrase "men of Timber and Calibre" which became his trademark. Mbadiwe was always inventing words. He did so with domestic confidence. He was never kept in check by official linguistic conventions. In the several tributes to him when he died, there was this unseeming penchant of the people to employ lofty and grandiloquent expressions to bid him farewell, mainly as a mark of honour, given that his flamboyancy, even in words, was his trademark. As one Nigerian historian concluded, "K O was a flamboyant man who thought only in superlatives." In the words of Eric Teniola, a journalist in Mbadiwe's time, Mbadiwe "was the most flambouyant, the most ornate and the most baroque politician that I ever met."
It said that on one occasion while defending his position on zoning of public offices in the country, Mbadiwe said: "If all my proposed rotational zones, in their turn, produced Presidents over the years, the need for zoning could perhaps no longer arise, and we would have zoned to unzone". His submissions were standing perfect platitudes.
Several times, he said his philosophy in life was that "if you want to achieve greatness, then you must be ready to finance greatness." In an address to the Constituent Assembly in 1977, he said: "Logic and illogicality can never meet. If you want the Presidency, that is the logical sequence. If you throw in any other thing, it can never meet, and illogicality and logicality will produce tautology". On another occasion, he said. "Let finance jam with finance, when one irreducible minimum confronts another extreme irreducible minimum on another side, the net result is cataclysm and catastrophe." Even at the risk of not making meaning, he once blurted out ."When the come, come to become, the unbecome, must become." Mbadiwe never failed to thrill his audience. He was a political equilibrator. His amusing vocabulary helped tremendously to reduce the tension associated with politics. He brought fun and laughter into the political arena.
 Given that Mbadiwe was a patriotic politician and statesman with an enlightened democratic approach, his life and achievements are relevant to Nigerians today who are still struggling to entrench democracy. It seems, however, that his flamboyant style so far has not been replicated.
In 2009, a Nigerian commentator noted, “Since K. O. died, no politician with the same vivacity and audacity has illuminated the Nigerian political landscape.” The same writer also lamented that Mbadiwe “has not yet received his deserved honor” and recognition. It is my hope that this biography will begin to address that omission.
As a feminist advocate, Mbadiwe became an early and vociferous champion of rights of women in a country in which women’s rights prior to the 1979 constitution were widely curtailed, especially in the Islamic north. When in conflict with Azikiwe, he formed his own party in 1958; its platform uniquely emphasized “the need for the development of opportunities for women side-by-side with our men-folk.” He himself was an exemplary family man. A contemporary has written that “of all his colleagues . . . Dr. Mbadiwe had the most stable family life.” Mbadiwe insisted that “a woman President [sic] for Nigeria is no idle dream,” a prediction, I am sure, that will be noted by politically
ambitious Nigerian women (Lynch, 2012)
In a country in which corruption was widespread, Mbadiwe himself did not escape being accused of such. However, no major charge of corruption was ever proved against him. He was a successful businessman and could easily have become a Nigerian mogul, but politics with a patriotic goal was his passion.

(L-R): Judge James S. Watson with Alain Locke, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kingsley O. Mbadiwe, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Clarence Holt and unidentified guest at the African Dance Academy Festival hosted by Mbadiwe. Jamaican born Judge Watson was elected municipal judge in 1930 and one of the first black judges in New York. Alain Locke, distinguished as the first African American Rhodes Scholar and architect of the Harlem Renaissance. Location: New York. Date: December 1943. Image: Campbell & Harper/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe was born at Oneh in Orumba in the Orlu division of present day Imo State on March 15, 1917. He belonged to Mbadiwe Odum of the wealthy Odum family of Ndianiche Uno, Arondizuogu in the present Ideato North Local Government of Imo State.
KO, at birth, was proclaimed to ba a reincarnation of Okoli Idozuka, a famous warrior and wealthy merchant whose title, Agadagbachiriuzo (the great tree that blocks the way), he inherited and bore all his life. Thus imbued with the heart of a lion from a tender age, KO began school at St. Marys Catholic School, Port Harcourt where his brother, David, was a staff of the Nigerian Railways. His assertive character began to manifest at this time. During the late 1920s while he was holidaying in Arondizuogu, KO who had become fascinated by the aura of Catholicism decided to relinquish the Anglican faith of his family. He walked up boldly to the Irish priest at St. Philips Catholic Church, Ndiakeme to request for baptism. The bewildered priest hedged until an older communicant, Mazi Stephen Okafor Ogbaji, volunteered to mentor the boy who was eventually bestowed with the name Gabriel at baptism. Today, in the large Odum kindred, KO's nuclear family remains Catholics among Protestants.
After completing his elementary education at Government School, Aba, KO attended Aggrey Memorial College Arochukwu, Baptist College, Lagos and Igbobi College, Lagos. On leaving Igbobi in 1934, he tried his hands at trading, an occupation that made him to settle in Port Harcourt. His residence there proved providencial. When Zik returned from the Gold Coast with the gospel of nationalism and visited PH on a lecture tour in 1937, KO who had just turned 20 at the time was captivated by Zik's erudition. He got close to Zik and arranged for the orator to meet his wealthy elder brother, J. Green Mbadiwe, then a gold miner and railway contractor in Minna. At the meeting, Green readily subscribed to the setting up of the West African Pilot which became the flagship of the Zik group of newspapers with the motto "show the light and the people shall find the way". KO became the representative of the newspaper for PH, Aba and Onitsha but not for long.
With Zik's encouragement, KO was one of the seven young men who were inspired to sail to the United States on December 31, 1938 in search of the Golden Fleece: others were Mazi Mbonu Ojike, George Igbodebe Mbadiwe, Otuka Okala, Dr. Nnodu Okongwu, Engr. Nwankwo Chukwuemeka, and Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani. They were later joined by Dr. Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor Orizu. KO was to refer to this group as the Seven Argonauts.
On his return to Nigeria in May 1948, KO undertook a tour of the country with a movie "Greater Tomorrow" which he had made in the US to promote the cause of his African Academy of Arts and Science. With interest generated by the film, the Academy was able to send a batch of 16 students to the US before the end of that year.  in the words of Lynch (2012) "He had all the equipment necessary to tackle his mission: He was financially independent, supremely self-confident, extremely hardworking, possessed a forthright but genial personality, and was a master of publicity and public relations. True to his pan-African thrust and his flair for publicity,
Mbadiwe undertook a five-month triumphant return to Nigeria in 1948, via London, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gold Coast, and instantaneously became one of Nigeria’s leading nationalists. With
his transplanted Academy as his base he spent three years trying to establish a broad-based
nationalist movement, and when that failed, he joined the NCNC in 1951 and became a leading deputy to its president, Nnamdi Azikiwe."
In April 1951 KO joined the NCNC. Not long after, the Macpherson Constitution was promulgated which introduced regionalism into the political matrix. With radical nationalism manacled by the ban placed on the Zikist movement, KO contested and won election as member for Orlu in the Eastern Regional House of Assembly from where he was elected to the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos. In 1952, KO was appointed the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources. The journey through political minefields which saw him remaining in the limelight for almost four decades had begun.
K.O made persistent calls for the ‘rebirth' of this nation. Over fifty odd years ago, he convened the first committee on National Rebirth, a forum for all political leaders. Even his authobiography published in 1990 is aptly titled ‘Rebirth of a Nation'. Today Nigeria has adopted and institutionalized both the catchphrase and the idea. K.O fought for the institution of a zoning system (which was encapsulated in his typically illustrative coinage "zoning to unzone" as a sine qua non for equity and national development. It was K.O who secured the inclusion of the clause "25% of votes cast in at least two thirds of the states of the Federation" in the 1979 constitution during his days in the Constituent Assembly to counteract the dangers of electing a president by "simple majority".
In his lifetime, K.O showed a preference for a nationally based political party over any regional or ethnic party. This has become accepted today as the only panacea for national unity. How many residents of Surulere today know that this model estate was conceived and established in a virtual forest by K.O as Minister for Lands to settle victims of the Lagos slum clearance project, a scheme that was resisted and opposed by the Action Group? Indeed, when K.O moved a motion in 1952 to remove Lagos from the Western Region in view of its status as a capital city, the same Action Group opposed and caused the motion to fail. But K.O's DPNC struck an alliance with Action Group in 1958. At that time he was thought by Ndigbo to have committed political sacrilege. Today, the ‘handshake across the Niger', a synonym for Igbo/Yoruba political co-operation has become a favourite song in the Igbo political hymnal
Even before 1958, K.O's vision, amiability and candour had moved him to earn the trust and confidence of the northern political establishment. This made it possible for him to engineer many monumental political alliances: the NCNC/NPC alliance (1954), the NPN/NPP alliance (1981) and, when that failed, the multi party alliance which K.O the quintessential wordsmith tagged ‘accord-concordiale' (1982). K.O Mbadiwe was a flamboyant man who thought only in superlatives. As minister of Aviation, he structured Nigerian Airways partnership with Pan-American Airways and took exotic Atiliogwu dancers and two royal trumpeters from Kano on the maiden flight from Lagos to New York which he tagged "Operation Fantastic". In the thick of his debacle with Zik in 1958, K.O declared that if Azikiwe was "iwe" that he (Mbadiwe) was "iwe" too – an onomatopoeic reference to the identical suffix of their surnames which translate to "anger". At the height of the 1965 political crisis in the former Western Nigeria, KO was reported as saying that "when the come comes to become, we shall come out".
At various times KO served this country as Minister of Communications, Minister of Aviation, Minister for Lands and Natural Resources, Minister for Trade, Personal Adviser to President Shehu Shagari on National Assembly Affairs, and the first and, so far, only ‘Ambassador  Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary' of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. K.O had an abiding respect for the press which nourished his relationship with the fourth estate of the realm which so glamorized him that even his silence on issues made as much headline news as his comments.
Next to Zik, K.O ranks among the greatest nationalists of Igbo extraction that ever trod this land. This colossal image was recaptured by another orator and hero Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who wrote in a befitting tribute "K.O was grand, his actions grandiose, his speeches grandiloquent". In his lifetime K.O was like the phoenix, a mythical bird that always rose rejuvenated from it's ashes: there was no single political conflagration from which he did not emerge straight into power or, at worst, into the corridor of power. Today, we refresh our memory on this unforgettable man who (like many other heroes of yesterday) has not received his deserved honour from the government of Nigeria.

Greg Mbadiwe (L) with his friend sitting on some of his vintage and fancy cars at his garage. Courtesy http://diarybyemmy.com/297
source:http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/hist2012/browse/inside/inline/9781137002624.pdf?
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          http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/uche-ohia/remembering-ko-mbadiwe-by-uche-ohia.html
           http://news.biafranigeriaworld.com/archive/2003/oct/18/032.html

K. O. Mbadiwe: A Nigerian Political      Biography, 1915–1990
                         By Hollis R. Lynch

Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe, an Igbo, was a central figure in Nigerian political life for more than forty years. Starting in 1936 as a protégé of Nnamdi Azikiwe, then Nigeria’s most renowned nationalist, Mbadiwe by the late 1940s had become a frontline nationalist, and, next to Tafawa Balewa from the north who became prime minister in 1957, Mbadiwe was the most important figure in the Nigerian federal government between 1952 and Nigeria’s first military coup in 1966.
During this time he held a succession of important cabinet positions and was the parliamentary leader of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which was in a ruling alliance with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). In contrast, his older prominent political contemporaries, Azikiwe of the Eastern Region, Igbo leader of the NCNC; Obafemi Awolowo, Yoruba leader of the Action Group; Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region, and Fulani, leader of
the NPC, all carved out their political careers totally or largely at the regional level. Throughout his political career Mbadiwe operated at the national level. It has been stated that Mbadiwe “was one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian State.”
There is a consensus among his contemporaries that Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe (1915–1990)
“was indisputably the most colorful, flamboyant and most glamorous politician of his time.” His
gracious yet forceful personality; his colorful robes; his inventive, picturesque speech; his progressive ideas and his unabashed patriotism made him an object of adoration by his followers who bestowed on him a slew of sobriquets all indicating purposeful strength. “A Man of Caliber and Timber” was the most popular, but among others were “The Iron Man of the East,” “The Caterpillar,” and “The Juggernaut.” He was a frontline nationalist and politician, an avowed patriot
and a leading Nigerian statesman. A staunchly pan-Africanist and internationalist figure, he was obsessed with the idea that Nigeria was potentially a great nation and worked assiduously toward that end.
Even before he left home in 1938, age 23, to study in the United States, he had already emerged as a full-fledged nationalist and businessman. In his nine-year stay, he carved out the most spectacular
career ever accomplished by a foreign student in the United States. Capitalizing on the profound new interest in Africa created by World War II, Mbadiwe harnessed the small group of fellow African students and won the support of liberal whites and African Americans, thus becoming perhaps the leading pan-African spokesman in the United States. To facilitate his role, he was instrumental in founding the African Students Association in 1941 and in 1943 the African Academy of Arts and Research, which organized lectures, conferences, cultural events and publications. His social reach extended to the White House where twice he was the guest of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who became a staunch supporter of his Academy, as did a host of prominent black and white Americans. The publication on March 15, 1943, of his first book, British and Axis Aims in Africa, predictably anti-colonial and pro-Africa, naturally added to his prestige and influence.
The question arises: how does a foreign student make such a spectacular political impact in the United States? The answer lies in the favorable liberal atmosphere of World War II, in his financial independence, and in the nature of his character and mission. His political goals were clear: the political, economic, and social freedom of all African peoples but more particularly Nigerians. He had all the equipment necessary to tackle his mission: He was financially independent, supremely self-confident, extremely hardworking, possessed a forthright but genial personality, and was a master of publicity and public relations. True to his pan-African thrust and his flair for publicity,
Mbadiwe undertook a five-month triumphant return to Nigeria in 1948, via London, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Gold Coast, and instantaneously became one of Nigeria’s leading nationalists. With
his transplanted Academy as his base he spent three years trying to establish a broad-based
nationalist movement, and when that failed, he joined the NCNC in 1951 and became a leading deputy to its president, Nnamdi Azikiwe. Elected to the eastern House and the federal House in 1951 and named to his first cabinet position in 1954, Mbadiwe became increasingly a dynamic political force in Nigeria.
His goal was a stable, thriving, and integrated nation. Because of profound ethnic and regional differences, it was a difficult goal, but no politician was more committed to its realization than Mbadiwe. For Mbadiwe it was imperative that Nigeria succeed not only for itself but the entire black world. He was saddened by the Nigerian civil war in which circumstances forced him to support the seceding Biafrans, but he was always for reconciliation. After the civil war he was in the forefront in fighting for the restoration of Igbo property outside of the former “Biafra” and the reintegration of the group into national life.
His vision for Nigeria required the massive economic development of the country. At a time when most African and other developing countries espoused socialism because of fears that foreign investment would foster neo-colonialism, Mbadiwe unabashedly sought to promote capitalistic investments. However, the capitalism he promoted was not the unbridled, rapacious variety. He believed in what he called “philanthropic capitalism,” which emphasized sharing acquired wealth with the community and which, he asserted, was the traditional African approach. As far as foreign investments were concerned, it was up to the Nigerian government to ensure that the necessary terms and conditions existed for the benefit of both the investors and the country.
Trained in business, and a businessman himself, Mbadiwe remained the leading spokesman on economic affairs during his legislative career. He was in the forefront, particularly as minister of Commerce and Industry (1957–1958) and minister of Trade (1965–1966), in devising policy and passing legislation that would foster industrial development. He also worked tirelessly to develop a Nigerian entrepreneurial class. He got legislation passed to strengthen and stabilize indigenous banks, hitherto massively discriminated against by the colonial authorities. He made government loans more easily available to small businesses. In 1952 he was the first legislator to call for the establishment of the Central Bank of Nigeria, which came into existence in 1959. He organized trade conferences and exhibitions and insisted that Nigerian export products be of superior quality.
Economic development he saw as essential for the unity and stability of the country.
He did not see the fostering of Nigerian capitalism as inimical to the interests of the working class, and he promoted those interests by encouraging the strengthening and unification of the labor movement. He saw the role of the state as promoting the interests of all segments of society as equitably as possible. He subscribed to the philosophy of social welfarism, which he believed was derived from traditional African values and practices.
In a country in which women’s rights prior to the 1979 constitution were widely curtailed, especially in the Islamic north, Mbadiwe became an early and vociferous champion of those rights. When in conflict with Azikiwe, he formed his own party in 1958; its platform uniquely emphasized “the need for the development of opportunities for women side-by-side with our men-folk.”
It is noteworthy that, through the influence of progressives such as Mbadiwe, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), 1978–1983, whose major base was in the Islamic north, gave unprecedented political opportunities to women. He himself was an exemplary family man. A contemporary has written that “of all his colleagues . . . Dr. Mbadiwe had the most stable family life.” Mbadiwe insisted that “a woman President [sic] for Nigeria is no idle dream,” a prediction, I am sure, that will be noted by politically ambitious Nigerian women.
In a country affected by rampant ethnic partisanship, Mbadiwe stood out as “a leader who never discriminated among the various ethnic groups.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was deeply
democratic. He was accessible, a consensus builder, tolerant of long debates and discussions, and an excellent organizer. Mbadiwe’s reputation as a populist stemmed as much from his creative flamboyant rhetoric as from his progressive ideas. A short, stocky, gracious, good-humored man, he titillated his audiences with verbal pyrotechnics eliciting mirthful shouts of “K. O., K. O.” A contemporary wrote: “He was never short of sparkling language . . . What Shakespeare was to Britain, and Daniel Webster was to America, Mbadiwe was to Nigeria.” Another succinctly stated, “K. O. was grand, his actions grandiose, his speech grandiloquent.” And a reviewer of this work
while in manuscript has elaborated as follows: He was “an icon of political oratory and . . . an exemplar of the art and poetics of political flourish . . . Mbadiwe indeed pioneered a new genre of political speech in Nigeria, one that has spawned its own literary canon and can be found in many politically flamboyant and grammatically verbose characters in Nigerian politics today and in fictional representations in the current wave of Nigerian literary writing. Mbadiwe normalized
political verbosity and highfalutin robust political speech as essential aspects of political praxis in Nigeria.”
Mbadiwe was a supreme statesman. His statesmanship derived from his patriotic fervor for Nigeria. More than any other Nigerian he was preoccupied with promoting its unity, stability, and development. He was Nigeria’s biggest booster, and during times of crisis “he was invariably in the vanguard of those who sought to mediate, to contain, to conciliate, to compromise.” Whatever the shortcomings of politicians, he was unwavering in his belief that Nigeria’s future should be as a vibrant democratic nation. This is why he was so actively involved in the drafting of the constitution that would return Nigeria to a presidential-style democracy after thirteen years of military rule. With Nigeria divided into 19 states, that constitution met his long-held wish for a strong federal government and for an extension of Nigerian democracy by giving the vote to 18 year olds and enfranchising Muslim women of northern Nigeria. In his continuing concern to promote integration, his singular contribution to the new constitution was the insertion of a clause that the president should not win just by a simple majority but should have at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the 19 states. Even though the Shagari government was ended by a military coup on December 31, 1983, Mbadiwe never ceased demanding that Nigeria return to democracy.
No Nigerian politician was more responsible for establishing the identity of Nigeria than Mbadiwe. Years after its independence in 1960, Nigeria still did not have an established identity internationally: It was often confused with Liberia and Algeria. However, in his travels abroad, Mbadiwe attracted considerable media attention and aggressively promoted Nigeria. The response of the Manchester Guardian of July 4, 1955, was typical. It confirmed to readers that Mbadiwe was “known to his admirers as ‘Knock Out’,” but he was also “a most genial diplomat,” and the newspaper added that “wherever he goes he makes a most notable figure in his colorful Nigerian dress.” His attempts at projecting Nigeria internationally can further be seen by three events he engineered that generated substantial international publicity: the holding in Nigeria of the 1962 world middleweight championship fight of Dick Tiger, an Igbo Nigerian; the inauguration in 1964 of a Nigerian Airways weekly flight between Lagos and New York; and the unsuccessful attempt in
1965 to win for Lagos the headquarters of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The internationalism of Mbadiwe and his enormous capacity for organization and publicity are clearly seen in his successful attempt to build the Ojike Memorial Hospital in Arondizuogu in honor of his close friend and fellow patriot, Mbonu Ojike, who died prematurely in 1956. It was a highly ambitious project estimated to cost the large sum of about £1 million, but Mbadiwe was able to use his vast global contacts to raise the funds. Its construction was interrupted by the civil war, but the hospital was opened in 1974 with great fanfare. Such an effort remains unmatched. Another distinguishing feature of Mbadiwe is the fact that he was the most pro-Western of his colleagues. In a Cold War setting the NCNC and other major Nigerian parties opted for a foreign policy of neutrality and nonalignment. However, Mbadiwe’s own Democratic Party of Nigeria and the Cameroons (DPNC), formed in 1958, had among its foreign policy goals “the reinforcement of our friendship with the United States” and “the proclamation of our interest in American Negroes.” In Nigeria he was proud to be known as “Mr. America.” Throughout his life he maintained strong links with leading black and white Americans.
In a country in which corruption was widespread, Mbadiwe himself did not escape being accused of such. However, no major charge of corruption was ever proved against him. He was a successful businessman and could easily have become a Nigerian mogul, but politics with a patriotic goal was his passion.
Although he was almost certainly Nigeria’s ablest national politician, the fact that he was Igbo and remained politically number two in the eastern region behind Azikiwe, militated against his goal to
lead Nigeria. Moreover, his goal of setting his nation on the path to greatness had to contend with harsh realities: widespread poverty, high illiteracy, a grossly underdeveloped private sector, fierce ethnic and regional conflicts for the control of governments and resources, and massive corruption. These conditions, in turn, led to prolonged military rule—20 years in Mbadiwe’s lifetime—which
was often more corrupt and repressive than civilian rule and was bitterly deprecated by Mbadiwe. By contrast, Mbadiwe’s vision for Nigeria and his efforts on its behalf are entirely praiseworthy.
Given that Mbadiwe was a patriotic politician and statesman with an enlightened democratic approach, his life and achievements are relevant to Nigerians today who are still struggling to entrench democracy. It seems, however, that his flamboyant style so far has not been replicated. In 2009, a Nigerian commentator noted, “Since K. O. died, no politician with the same vivacity and audacity has illuminated the Nigerian political landscape.” The same writer also lamented that Mbadiwe “has not yet received his deserved honor” and recognition. It is my hope that this biography will begin to address that omission.
K. O. Mbadiwe first came forcefully to my attention in the mid-1970s when I was doing research for an article on the pan-African activities of African students in the United States during and immediately after World War II. There were about sixty students, and K. O. Mbadiwe without question was the most formidable anticolonial pan-African activist among them. This plus his distinguished public career in Nigeria made me later undertake to write a political biography of him. However, at the time of Mbadiwe’s death in 1990, I succumbed to a serious illness that ended my academic career. Remarkably, however, in the last three years, I have made enough of
a recovery to resume and complete the biography.

Dr. Hollis R. Lynch
Professor Emeritus of History
Columbia University
New York City, August 1, 2011
http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/hist2012/browse/inside/inline/9781137002624.pdf?chapterDoi=$%7Bchapter.getDoiWithoutPrefix()%7D

Greg Mbadiwe and his pal Bayo Abdul

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