Now, let’s get it clear. It appears strikingly that many of the current generations of young Ìgbò people born in the last 4 decades do not know really the weight of these two personalities whose birthdays we are celebrating this December month and whose huge impact on and legacies for the Ìgbò throughout the 20th century and till the present will continue to reverberate.
When a year ago, one guy from Cross Rivers State bluntly denied here on Facebook that Michael Ọkpara (the man on the left) DID NOT BUILD the Obudu Cattle Ranch, some Ìgbò people—(gullible targets and victims of the ambitious postwar anti-Ìgbò propaganda)—surprisingly agreed with him and were even eager to ask me to provide evidences to my contrary position. I was forced to find a few documents to end the stupid and childish denial and which also amazed many young Ìgbò people about a past they had not come to know quite well. For the first time, many young Ìgbò people got to know that OBUDU CATTLE RANCH HAD LONG BEEN BUILT AND OPERATED BY MICHAEL ỌKPARA IN THE 1960s BEFORE DONALD DUKE DECIDED TO DO A MAJOR REFURBISHMENT THERE IN THE EARLY 2000s (after many years of abandonment). But it ought to be a common knowledge if not for many years of anti-Ìgbò propaganda led, first, by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and other Ìgbò-hating British lecturers in Nigeria at the time leading to the Nigerian genocide on Biafra of 1966—1970 and then secondly by the Yoruba/Lagos-Ibadan Media Bloc from 1970 till the emergence of the Social Media in the late 2000s which the Ìgbò quickly grabbed with two hands and proceeded to deploy it in liquidating any slightest propaganda against them!
Meanwhile, the present-day young Ìgbò generations must know that these two men, Michael Iheọ̀nụkara Ọkpara (b.1920) and Kenneth Ọnwụka Dike (b.1917) are some of their greatest ancestors. And it’s interesting that they both were born in December just eight days away from each other. While Dike was 103 years on 17th December, Ọkpara was 100 on 25th December — this year 2020. And they both had intersecting destinies and pathways that enriched the Ìgbò past.
Before now, a story written by an Ìgbò person had circulated few months ago about how Ọkpara acquired the nickname “M. I. Power” as the Premier of Eastern Region but the story did not give some details. While its writer had mentioned that Ọkpara traveled to the Western Region (Ibadan) against the ethnically charged atmosphere which was anti-Ìgbò at the time and which had warned that Ọkpara shouldn’t step foot into Ibadan, he wasn’t able to mention how and where Ọkpara slept when he defied the threats and fears to be in Ibadan. Many Ìgbò do not know till today that the then Premier of Western Region, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and some of his Yoruba party brethren (the party that aligned with the North) had warned every hotel management in Ibadan not to accommodate Ọkpara and his entourage. This move was to humiliate Ọkpara nonviolently for they could not carry out the earlier violent threats. But when the intelligence feeds reached Ọkpara on his way to Ibadan, a call was placed to Professor Dike who was the then VC of the University of Ibadan and he swiftly provided more than enough accommodation in the University’s guest house and allowed Ọkpara to use the University premises with the students swooning to welcome and meet the famous Eastern Region Premier grandly. Ọkpara escaped the organized humiliation by the Western Region Government.
This more than infuriated Akintola and his tribesmen of the same party including those of them on the staff of the University of Ibadan. It was going to be the beginning of intense tribal hate campaign against Dike and against the entire Ìgbò who worked at the University of Ibadan. Gradually, the hate campaign also filtered into the University of Lagos and finally throughout the Western Region and Nigeria, blossoming into the Nigerian genocidal war on Biafra. For those who do not know, this was partly the beginning of the groundwork politics and moves by Akintola and his Yoruba tribesmen which culminated into the unceremonious, compulsive and unjust resignations of Professor K. Ọnwụka Dike and Professor Eni Njọkụ as the VCs of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos, respectively. The rest is the tragic history many know and can easily access today.
Certainly, many young Ìgbò people are beginning to get sufficiently educated on the person and legacies of M. I. Ọkpara since the intense use of the Social Media platforms (Facebook especially) in the last few years. But it appears that the same cannot be said about Dike. I feel Dike’s towering personality and legacies are underrated and accessible to only the older Ìgbò generations and those in the history profession as well as the conscious Ìgbò graduates of the Ibadan University. My interest is not even to list his legacies because I consider myself thoroughly unworthy to. But there is an aspect of what Dike did for not only the Ìgbò but the entire Nigeria — that is for those who really care to honor him accordingly. Let me explain as much as I can.
While Dike was working for his PhD between 1945 and 1949, he toured the entire Niger Delta (what is today’s Bayelsa State and Rivers State) gathering oral and documented materials SCATTERED IN DIFFERENT HANDS AND IN VARIOUS SHABBY GOVERNMENT OFFICES. It was painstaking for him to move from one old chief to another and from one wretched government office to another collecting rare pieces of information on what the British did in that area between 1830 and 1885 before penetrating the Ìgbò hinterland from November 1901 with the bloody expedition that began with Arọchukwu and ended in Abankalenke areas around 1919. For this reason, he vowed to do something about it. Having returned to Nigeria in the early 1950s, Dike personally took it upon himself to start traveling throughout Nigeria to gather colonial documentations in various offices which were already “abandoned” and which were under the threats of natural and artificial destruction. By the time Abubakar Tafewa Balewa had become the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Dike had secured his audience and approval to establish what is now the Nigerian National Archives, first at Ibadan and then later at Enugwu and Kaduna. Dike reportedly offered to collect no salaries as long as the federal government would allow him all the needed powers and provisions to formidably access, retrieve, assemble and domicile every important document of the colonial period in one place. He succeeded.
To put it straight: But for Dike, the Ìgbò—to be specific—could have lost terribly a lot of records and thereby history owing to the genocidal war which had come few years after the establishment of the National Archives in Enugwu. We could have even lost over 130 Intelligence Reports on several Ìgbò communities which the colonial officers were ordered to do between 1931 and 1935 by the newly-appointed and ambitious governor-general, Donald Cameron who was determined to understand the mind of the Ìgbò people after our women put up an unprecedented resistance of taxation in 1929. These Intelligence Reports as well as several documents were what Dike boldly and foresightedly moved to save and officially preserve just before we suffered the genocidal war. And it has to be noted that these documents—even though many were lost—were saved during the genocidal war using the government protection which carried them from one Biafran government seat to another before the war ended in 1970. Ponder for a moment if those documents had not been formally put into the Nigerian government custody as a department before the war and if the Biafran government had not secured them as it moved to safety during the genocidal war. Most of our history would have started from 1970 and our enemies would have totally finished us by now. Remember my second paragraph about the Calabar guy? He would have successfully convinced a lot of gullible Ìgbò that Ọkpara never had anything to do with Obudu Cattle Ranch and some of us who say the contrary truth would have ended up as “noisemakers shouting without evidence”. Àzì gbakwa ife ọjọọ!!!
Each time I behold documents about the Ìgbò of over 100 years officially preserved by Dike with the establishment of the National Archives, I not only worship him in my mind, I also feel very scared at what would have been our lot had he not made the move he made early enough. Due to Dike’s efforts, numerous committed Ìgbò historians, beginning with the Overall Dean of Ìgbò history himself, the late Adiele Afigbo, Felix Ekechi, Obichere, Ikenga Ọraegbunam, Ọnwụka Njọkụ, Olisa Esedebe down to the present-day Ìgbò historians like Gloria Chuku, Chima Korie, Tony Nwaezeigwe and many others would have had little or no access to documented data without which the precolonial and colonial Ìgbò narratives would have been poorly and scantily reconstructed or not even reconstructed at all.
As we celebrate Dike at 103 and Ọkpara at 100, let us bear these their legacies in mind and continue to revisit, relearn, guard, rehash and transfer them to our children as aggressively as possible, for the enemy’s campaign in the past has been more aggressive and will never end. And as we say in the Ìgbò, “anụ gbaa ajọ asọ, a gbanyelụ ya ajọ égbè”.
Ezigbo mmadụ adịrọkwa fechaa!
December 26, 2020
Reference: Life and Thoughts of Professor Kenneth O. Dike by Professor Alex. O. E. Animalu (1997).