Of all the fans and foes, critics and followers of one of Nigeria’s most revered authors, critics, Chief Dr. Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo, there may never be anyone who would miss him so much like OBJ.
In 1989, then former head of state and later President Olusegun Obasanjo had published a book titled; Constitution for National Integration and Development, projecting for a one-party state just like he has just recently projected the need for a new constitution. The seven-chapter book by OBJ in 1989 was published by Lagos based publishing house; Friends Foundation Publishers and soon became highly acclaimed and controversial coming as a direct opposition to then-President Ibrahim Babangida’s administration’s plot for a two-party system at that time. But erudite Arthur Nwankwo bravely engaged OBJ head-on, telling him to literally dump his propositions except he had explained, amongst other things, why he never made the changes he was then proposing during the time of his “regency”.
Nwankwo said he was empowered by his deep understanding of the “noble role of publishing which I voluntarily chose as a profession; that is to search for, identify and expose the truth” without caring, minding or fearing “whose ox is gored”. With heavy-duty access to national print media,(Nwankwo had also set up Frontline Publishers to publish New Outlook newspapers then) both men confronted each other with dialectical polemics and entertained their readers with gunshots from their pens. And did they get the nation rattled in thoughts about its progress and development? Until today, it is yet unknown if any other Nigerian living or dead has ever engaged ever-ubiquitous OBJ fire for fire in his perennial projection of his many views, positions and ideas through public speaking, letter writing and books the way Dr. Nwankwo did. Again it is noteworthy that Arthur Nwankwo’s fiery blasts (he calls them drumbeats) without doubt also brought out the very best in OBJ as one of the most enigmatic, forceful, vibrant, sound, solid and intellectually recharged and respected statesmen Nigeria has ever produced. It is not news to say that Obasanjo started his prolific writing career with his 1980 delivery of his account of the Nigerian Civil war captured in My Command. He later dropped Nzeogwu a biography, (1987) Not My Will, (1990) etc. Three volumes of My Watch came in 2014/15 among many others. It is for this reason that one may be right to project that Obj may not forget Arthur Nwankwo who died Saturday 1st February, 2020 so soon. Having read OBJ’s book from cover to cover, page one to the end, Arthur Nwankwo dissected it chapter by chapter, page by page and produced a critique considered very explosive by both local and international political observers of African viewpoints. He posted a copy of his critique straight with a cover letter dated 7 March 1989 to Obasanjo’s Abeokuta address, nudging him to reply. Follow me as we take a little peep into the exchanges that later gave birth to Before I die ….a 219 paged book released by Nwankwo a few months after. In the cover letter, Nwankwo wrote “My dear General…You have no doubt brought your enormous experience to bear on your discourse and positions in the book. I, however, feel that a critique at this stage will serve a patriotic purpose as it would subject your views and arguments to a dialectical process from which should emerge one way or another something which should be to the greater benefit of our nation Nigeria. Please be assured that where I have differed and there are quite a few places, the difference remains of opinion. I do hold you and your role in the historical development of Nigeria in great respect” On the first lines of the critique, he writes again “Olusegun Obasanjo’s book is premised on the thesis that an inherently obnoxious man could be made good by a constitutional declaration of pious intentions….without a corresponding emphasis on the material foundation of constitutional declarations”. OBJ’s reply on 24th March was published in Champion newspapers copied to Ray Ekpu and African Concord. Obj thanked him for his critique. He also posted to Nwankwo’s Enugu address. However, some of the words that OBJ used in his reply were considered not palatable by Nwankwo. OBJ wrote that “utilizing a Marxist methodology to proffer a critique of work informed and instructed by a non-Marxist paradigm is a form of mental laziness and the avoidance of a rigorous and balanced mental exercise”. Arthur Nwankwo returned fire with another fiery reply on 17 April 1989 where he posited that “If I utilized Marxist methodology to proffer a critique of your work not informed and instructed by Marxist methodology, it is not a form of laziness. On the contrary, it might indeed be a form of mental laziness to imply that only works informed by Marxist praxis should be criticised by Marxist methodology. You may find my methodology unacceptable to you that is. But that is your entitlement. It does not make me lazy.” He went further to enumerate 16 books with his authorial credit to buttress the fact of his not being lazy. Obj wrote again on 26 April 1989 this time, according to Nwankwo, “the General loses his temper”. Some of the quotes from Obj’s next letter which made him arrive at such conclusion included “I find it repugnant to expend time and materials in a non-productive past time as.. debates” “I am not averse to constructive criticisms, what revolts me is a criticism undertaken from a rigidly jaundiced viewpoint” “The belief in the non-workability of my proposals to my mind stems from a deep scaled obstinacy..obstinacy I do not appreciate; extreme and pejorative metaphors I abhor” Nwankwo sent in more fire on 17 June 1989 with; a plea for sanity while OBJ fired back two days after on 19 June 1989. It was on the 16 July 1989 that Nwankwo fired his last salvo; Obasanjo’s Extremism in the series of treatise that kept the media alive and greatly abuzz. By the time they were through, three letters had been exchanged by each, vibrating and bubbling the polity. To make the frenzy a notch more higher in drama, the prolific deep thinker, historian, much sooner than later put these five months of intellectual jingoism from March to July 1989 into a book titled; Before I die; (Obasanjo-Arthur Nwankwo correspondence on the One-party state) and rolled them out from his world famous Fourth Dimension Publishers. He also serialized it back to back in New Outlook every Sunday for several months after. In Before I Die, Nwankwo did not only dwell on his critique and analysis and the letters, he also added a classical introduction and included some thought-provoking treatise and essays on some of the matters raised in the book like; The Enfooled Generation of Leaders, The writer and Society, Fear of freedom, The right to know, The writer and Nigeria’s political Evolution, The role of the press as we approach 1990 and General Obasanjo and the civilian inter regime.
Just read vintage Arthur Nwankwo to really understand what I mean; “Before I die, I will remain a critical visionary of the imperatives of Nigerian politics and a purveyor of the desiderata of the Nigerian conditions. It is in relation to these that I shall always speak my mind without caring whose ox is gored” Before I Die is still regarded as one of Arthur Nwankwo’s outstanding books till date. Indeed there was a man, a real man. There was an Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo. And there was a Nigerian.