MANDELA STAYED WITH ME IN NIGERIA “Lived in my house for more than six months”- Chief Madubike Amaechi

Posted by Ifedayo Oshin on Monday, February 3, 2014 Under: Our Headline Articles

Hosting Nelson Mandela in his Lagos official residence for six months in 1963 is  surely one of the most memorable and significant events in the life of Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. As a proof of this, the 84 year-old first Nigerian Minister of Aviation between 1960 and 1966 was in South Africa to pay what he called ‘last respect to a man who has completed his last assignment on earth’. A member of Nigeria’s first republic parliament, Chief Amaechi was hosted by the Nigerian Consul-General in his Houghton home near Mandela’s house in Johannesburg on the 14th of December 2013. He shared with the Nigerian Voice newspaper, many fond memories of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s six month stay with him and his family in Lagos as well as some of the untold contributions of Nigeria to South Africa’s struggle for liberation and political development in South-west, Central and East Africa.

Chief Amaechi was full of praises for the Governor of Anambra State; Mr. Peter Obi whom he said facilitated his journey to South Africa to pay his last respect to his friend, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. He said the Governor also linked him with his host, His Excellency, the Consul-General of Nigeria in Johannesburg, Mr. Okey Emuchay MFR, who gave him a warm welcome in his Johannesburg house.

“First of all I want to thank you for receiving me. I am happy that I am able to do something in honor of the memory of my good friend and political think-alike. Since I arrived here yesterday, you have been very supportive. As a matter of fact you took your time to be out there that early, I feel very grateful and happy,” the octogenarian said in appreciation of the Consul-General’s hospitality. “Let me also further to what you said, express my gratitude to Governor Peter Obi, because without his support I would never have been able to visit  this place”, he continued.

Chief Amaechi said that even though it was difficult for him to travel long distance at the age of 84, but it was important for him to come to SA because of his good friend, Nelson Mandela, because of who he was and what he represented.“And I thought I should pay him the last respect”.

He recalled how Mandela came to live in his family house in Lagos during his visit to Nigeria.

“As far back as 1962 when the battle for the liberation of the people of SA was very strong and the apartheid government of SA was desperately looking for Mandela and other leaders of ANC, he came to Nigeria. Dr. Azikiwe (the then Governor-general) in consultation with Dr. Okpara, the leader of NCNC political party, assigned him (Mandela) to me. I was then a Member of Parliament and parliamentary secretary in the Federal Ministry of information. And so, Mandela lived with me at my official residence at 5, Okotie Eboh Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. We were together for six months in my house.  Our discussions and conversation were on the struggle for liberation. We talked about countries such as Nigeria and Ghana and the struggles in SA”. 

The foremost Nigerian parliamentarian described Mandela as a “totally relaxed man” during his six month stay with him and his family in Lagos.  The chief narrated how Mandela although was keeping a low life in Lagos away from the radar of the British and South Africa intelligence service, but the freedom fighter did have times to unwind.

“He would read newspaper, listen to news on radio and watch the television. He was always on the phone with people in South Africa. At night, we would go out to dance at the clubs. He was very young then. Occasionally, he would travel to my village in Anambra state to spend the weekend and then came back to Lagos. There was an African food he enjoyed so much- the Igbo delicacy called Abacha. In fact, when he came out of prison, he visited Nigeria. He went to Nzukka to visit Dr. Azikiwe with his wife Winnie. He specifically requested to see me and he asked “why didn’t you bring me Abacha? You know I would ask for that”. Chief Amaechi reminisced.

Watching Mandela closely, the man who hosted Mandela, noticed in all those six months that the struggle was paramount in his heart. He recounted his observation:

“He was a nice man, but when it came to the issue of nationalism, and fight for independence, he was a very determined and resolute man. He never bothered if he eats or not. He was totally consumed and possessed by the battle for the liberation of his people”.

Mandela’s passion and commitment to the liberation of his people could not let him enjoy freedom in exile. Mandela’s Nigerian host explained the thinking of Mandela at the time:

“But at a stage, he (Mandela) started thinking; ‘look if I stay in Nigeria, I may have my personal freedom, but it does not help the struggle. I think I better go back to South Africa. They either send me to prison or they kill me. If they send me to prison, the prison sentence will end sometime or I my stay in prison will spur other nationalists that I have been in touch with. And if they kill me, the killing will ginger and strengthen the resolve of the nationalists who are fighting with me.”’

“So, after six months, we decided that he should go back to South Africa. He came back and a few months after, he was arrested and was subjected to that kangaroo trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment”.

One action that leaves a lasting impression on the mind of Chief Amaechi about Mandela was his genuine interest in welfare of others. He recalled Mandela’s letter to him which he wrote from the Pretoria prison in 1964.

“What made me think of him as a rare person was that while serving life imprisonment, he was interested in the welfare of other people and the continuation of the struggle outside not minding his inconveniences. So, he wrote me a letter – I made a photocopy of the letter (he reads the letter). The letter was dated 18th February 1964 from the Pretoria jail, he wrote it to me in my capacity as a parliamentarian, asking me to find protection and employment to another South African migrant who was being threatened with the same fate as his.  The letter introduced one Mr. Y.  Barani jnr. (MSc, PHD) (son of one of South Africa’s eminent barristers, defense lawyer to Mandela’s and 153 political leaders) who was applying for a job as a lecturer of Geology at the University of Ife, Nigeria.

The first republic lawmaker believed that his visit was useful because of Nigeria’s lack of attention to history made “what Nigeria did for South Africa has been buried deep in the catacombs of forgotten things”. “If you don’t blow your trumpet nobody will blow it for you”, the chief warned.

He said, “It is for Nigeria to say, we have done this, we did this and that. All these East and central African countries passed through us, particularly, the eastern region governments. Sam Njoma was in NCNC’s political school at Yaba, Lagos. We trained them. Robert Mugabe was funded by the Nigerian government”.  

“In fact my political party in those days ran the government of the eastern region of the country.  Our policy then was to give support to the nationalists in East, Central and South Africa that is Malawi and Zimbabwe (then known as southern and northern Rhodesia), Tanzania and South Africa and South West Africa. We had a political school in Yaba, Lagos, the NCNC political school. Most of these leaders who later became ministers in these countries were students there. Also, many young men and women were brought to the eastern region of Nigeria by our government to go to schools because their parents could not afford to put them in school. We put those children in schools all over the region, some of the schools were owned by the then minister of education. Over two hundred of them, even after independence, we still continued to send them resource persons such as magistrates and judges”.

The first republic politician was sad when he compared political culture in the first republic with the present day politics in Nigeria. He recollected how tribe was not a question during the first republic politics. And, the politicians of the time were averse to wealth accumulation.

He observed that, “Most of the present crops of politicians are the surrogates and products of the military. The military destroyed political history in Nigeria. They were in power for 38 eight years and they have refused to tell Nigerians the truth about their past. They were very hostile to history. For instance, I was a minister for six years, I didn’t build a house. Dr. Azikiwe was Governor-general and late President for six years; he did not build a house. The same for the Sarduana of Sokoto and also the Prime Minister. But go and see what is happening today, somebody becomes a minister and four months later, he buys half of Abuja.

In our time, somebody from Sokoto was elected Mayor of Enugu for two terms. John Imodu from Etsako in Edo state was elected member of Eastern house of assembly in Port Harcourt and was appointed parliamentary secretary by the Premier. Chief Umaru Ishaq - Eze of Hausas at Onitsha was elected as a member of eastern house of chiefs. We were just one Nigeria.  I was minister for six years and on the day Nigeria took over, my bank balance was 340 pounds (N640). That was what I had and with that I left Lagos, like Mandela. The elder statement said with pride”

He advised Nigerians in South Africa; “whatever you are doing, do it quietly and honestly. You people must be careful not to do things that will embarrass your country and fellow Nigerians. Try and obey the laws of the country where you are and when you make money, bring the money home, because we must develop our place. Thank you very much”.

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