MAZI OJIKE MBANU A TRUE HERO, THE KING OF BOYCOT

This is a brief history of  MAZI MBONU OJIKE

 

Mazi Mbonu Ojike as he popularly called by his king’s men and friends was born in 1914. Until his death he was a native of Arondizuogu, in Imo state.

He was a choirmaster also an organist in the Anglican Church and a teacher in an Anglican school and later advanced to become a student in America and later became a cultural and economic nationalist.

In 1936 Ojike led an agitation for more pay for junior teachers at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Awka. He accused the authorities of partiality and discrimination, stressing that the salaries of junior teachers ought to have been increased when salaries of their senior colleagues were jerked up. In fact, he resigned as a teacher in 1938 after coming in contact with Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe who encouraged him to go for further studies. The young nationalist later attended Zik’s alma mater, Lincoln University, United States alongside Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who later became President of Ghana and other pioneer members of the African Students Association of America and Canada. The group became a veritable platform for nationalist activities.

Following his return to Nigeria, he turned to Zik for political mentoring. Ojike became an automatic member of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). He became a thorn in the flesh of the British interlopers.

As a critic of the colonial administration, he was marked down for liquidation. When he poured venom on the British government over the behavior of security forces during the Iva Valley massacre in 1949, he was charged with sedition and fined 40 pounds.

Judging by his father’s status as a prosperous trader, Ojike, one of the 19 sons of a polygamous home, could be said to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But his father had no plan to send him to school. He went to primary school by force, emerging as a teacher of elementary subjects in a primary school, at the same time, he read secondary school books at night.

His efforts were not in vain as he won scholarship to study at the teacher training college, where he also taught after graduation. As he taught, he intensified his private studies and obtained the Cambridge School Certificate and University of London Diploma. Apart from Lincoln University, Ojike also studied at Ohio and Chicago universities, obtaining B.A and M.A degrees. As a student-activist, he was the President of African Students Union (ASU) of Lincoln University, Secretary-General of African Academy of Arts and Research founded by Mbadiwe and observer at the historic United Nations Conference on International Organizations held in San Francisco in 1945. He wrote three books to sensitize Nigerians to the imperative of cultural pride; ‘Portrait of a boy in Africa’ (1945), ‘My Africa’ (1946) and ‘I have two countries’ (1947).

He was adviser to the NCNC delegation to the 1949 constitutional conference, deputy mayor of Lagos, NCNC National Vice President, member of Eastern House of Assembly, and Eastern Regional Minister of Works and later, Finance minister. In journalism, he was the General Manager of West African Pilot. He was also a successful businessman.

Ojike was also a publicist, if not a propagandist. He often electrified political rallies with his wisecracks and songs, which earned him the sobriquet of “freedom choirmaster”. But he also canvassed positions which brought him in collision with his political leaders.

For example, he objected, not to federalism, but a federal structure based on the three regions. He also objected to the creation of the House of Chiefs. Yet, as a conciliator, he brokered peace between warring indigenes and non-indigenes fighting over the control of Onitsha Urban Council.

In the East, he introduced the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system of taxation. He canvassed free education for production and creativity. He also said that Nigeria should develop its certification process, instead of being carried away by Cambridge School Certificate and London Matriculation.

Ojike was an apostle of self reliance. He had prayed to live to that period when Nigerian shops, factories, banks, universities, societies and clubs would be like the ones in advanced countries.

Up to now, it is an elusive goal. Nigerians have continued to boycott home goods in preference for imported commodities. Students are boycotting lecture rooms and teachers are boycotting duty posts. Labour is boycotting work and government is boycotting good governance.

The philosophy epitomizes belief in one’s own abilities. Nigeria today imports ready made goods, foods, even models, patterns of organizations and institutions from the developed countries, thereby subjecting the national economy and society to all manners of international upheavals that our present level of socio-economic development cannot sustain.

The boycott philosophy of Ojike encouraged Nigerians to do without a number of these imported goods and values and shift efforts towards the optimal utilization of her inert capabilities”. And to practice what he preaches, mazi Ojike promoted his brand of Africanization, a persistent consumption of African forms of cloths. On the podium, he was at his best when attacking the colonial masters and their anti-African policies. He was an orator and wordsmith. He was a man of intellect and understanding.

He canvassed passive resistance, which was made popular by the great Indian leader, Mahatma Ghandi. He traversed the length and breadth of the colonized territory, urging the people to “boycott the boycottables”.

He practiced what he preached by adopting native names, clothes, food, and ways of life. Ironically, he toured the towns and villages with his message of cultural nationalism in cars imported from abroad. He wore traditional dress to office and served palm wine, instead of whisky, champagne or beer at his official receptions and parties. He replaced his suit with agbada or jumper and encouraged civil servants to appear in office in native attire.

Ojike was a sophisticated critic who was passionate about economic nationalism, he was sometimes outspoken and this earned him some good enmity/enemies. Mazi Ojike wanted Africa to be economically free and politically independent.

Ojike married two wives and had 5 children.

Ojike died on November 29, 1956 at the age of 42 at Parklane Hospital Enugu after an auto crash while some people believed that he was poisoned by his enermies. Many Nigerians believed that he left without realizing his full potentials.

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