The sudden death of Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe in London on Thursday, October 17, 2019 came as a rude shock to his friends, admirers, students, comrades and loyal followers in Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. He was a top-flight intellectual who had distinguished himself in scholarship and activism as a creative thinker and strategist. He was concerned with African renaissance and wrote extensively on African politics, the state and human rights. He was an outstanding literary encyclopaedia, an internationalist and pan-Africanist.
He wrote 17 books, including 63 publications, all in English language, spread in 1, 102 world-cat member libraries all over the world. Some of his books include The Biafran War: Nigeria and the Aftermath(2006); Biafra Revisited(2007); African Literature in Defence History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe(2001); Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature(2003); Conflict Intervention in Africa: Nigeria, Angola, Zaire(1990); Africa 2001: the State, Human Rights and the People(1993); Does Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God Anticipate the Igbo Genocide?(1995) etc. Ekwe-Ekwe’s postulations on Nigeria’s national question and the crises of the Nigerian federation were indepth, incisive and breath-taking.
Professor Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe was born in Jos, Plateau State, on June 14, 1953. His parents, from Uburu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State migrated to Northern Nigeria in the decade following the end of the second world war, in search of the golden fleece. A naturally intelligent and gifted child, Herbert attended St. Paul’s Primary School, Bauchi(1958-64) and proceeded to Boy’s High School, Gingiri, Plateau state(1964-70). He gained admission to University of Ibadan(1970-74), where he read Political Science, graduating in flying colours. He later obtained scholarship to the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom and got his Masters and Doctorate degrees(1974-77). After his academic pursuits in Europe, Ekwe-Ekwe came back to Nigeria and became a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Calabar in late 1977. He left UNICAL in 1983 as a Senior Lecturer and joined The Guardian newspapers as a Member of the Editorial Board.
That was a period when Dr. Stanley Macebuh, the then Managing Director of the newspaper had invited many egg-heads into the newspaper’s Editorial Board, then referred to as the ‘Flagship of the Nation’. Other intellectual giants at The Guardian at the time included Chinweizu, Dr. Edwin Madunagu, Ashikiwe Adione-Egom, Prof. G.G.Darah, Ama Ogan etc. Ekwe- Ekwe had to leave Nigeria through Benin Republic, en-route Ghana to the United Kingdom, ostensibly to escape the Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor treatment. Recall that the duo was jailed after their trial under a military decree promulgated to silence the free press.
In a period of thirty years from 1989 to 2019, Ekwe-Ekwe underwent a fundamental metamorphosis in his scholarly underpinnings. He would soon devote his intellectual energies by researching into the crisis of the ‘nation-state’ in post-colonial Africa. He probed into the wobbly governance structure in post-independence Africa and succeeded in providing logical answers and convincing explanations to the causes and sources of the politics of pestilence, wars and senseless killings which characterized and dominated the African scene since the immediate post-independence period.
He condemned the European powers for their role in instigating political instability in Africa and frowned at the role of Pan-Arabism and political Islamism in fomenting violence in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the specific case of Nigeria, he investigated and interrogated the developments in post-second world war Nigeria, identifying the elements which set the stage for the 1966 crises and the Igbo genocide/ Biafran self-determination struggle(1966-1970), during which 3.1 million Igbo were massacred. Ekwe-Ekwe was a vocal supporter of the Biafran restoration project in the 21st century and spoke in various conferences and scholarly gatherings all over the world to defend the case of Biafran independence. He labelled the Igbo genocide “as the foundational genocide of post-(European) conquest Africa’’.
According to him, “the Igbo genocide inaugurated Africa’s age of pestilence. To understand the politics of the genocide and the politics of the post-Igbo genocide is to have an invaluable insight into the salient features and constitutive indices of politics across Africa in the past 51 years’’. He lampooned the British government for standing against Biafran independence, thus: “Historically, the state is a transient phenomenon. Where are the world’s once great empires? Europe, with just a third of Africa’s population has produced 23 new states from the late 1980s. There is no point in insisting that the Igbo people, victims of Africa’s worst and on-going genocide, who want their own state, must remain in Nigeria’’.
Ekwe-Ekwe was equally concerned about the continued military occupation of Igboland through numerous check-points which dotted the Igbo landscape. The check-points have since become barriers of extortion and appropriation, intended to hamstrung and destroy the socio-economic viability and heritage of the Igbo nation. He was even more worried that Africa and the rest of the world largely stood by and watched as the perpetrators enacted these tragedies, most ‘relentlessly and ruthlessly’. “Africa and the world could have stopped this genocide,” he said.
After teaching in some of the word’s leading universities such as Oxford, London School of Economics(LSE), Harvard, Sorbone and the University of Brazil, among others, Ekwe-Ekwe relocated to Africa in 2011, where he became the Director of the Centre for Cross- Cultural Studies in Dakar, Senegal. Certainly, the greatest regret for humanity lay in the fact that the Igbo genocide was coming 20 years after the Jewish holocaust/genocide in Hitler’s Germany during the second world war(1939-45) and exactly after the 21st anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz had been marked with a solemn declaration never to repeat such heinous/horrendous incidents in world history. Of course the repetition was only possible because the world never handled the matter seriously. After all, the Nigerian authorities had the backing of the world powers, especially the then British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson who in 1968 ordered the Nigerian genocidal commanders/commandants to kill 500,000 Biafrans , if that would force them to stop their political resistance.
Ekwe-Ekwe would also be remembered among progressive intellectuals in Nigeria for his contributions to the formation of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The key players then were Madunagu, Profs. Uzodinma Nwala and Biodun Jeyifo who started it all with the formation of a body, known as the “Revolutionary Directorate’’ in 1978. Others were Profs. Inya Eteng, Ola Oni, Bade Onimode etc. Ekwe-Ekwe belonged to a generation of committed scholars who shared the indomitable spirit of audacity and the motto that “the end of all intellectual activity is the service of mankind’’.
Onyike writes from Abakaliki, Ebonyi State