Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe [1953-2019]

Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe. Image courtesy of Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe.


I was only curious when I had noticed a piece that got my attention, and I had digested the contents thoroughly, which had to do with the Pogrom and massacre of the innocents, with concentration on the vandals and nihilists, the bloodthirsty Islamic Jihadists, and what they had done to the Igbo. I had been perturbed myself, sometimes with thoughts of what had poisoned their minds, to have plundered and demolished a people, including innocent children who had nothing to do with anything, and I had expressed my frustration, and was writing to near exhaustion on what the nihilists had done to my kin, in rounding up every Igbo on "Nigeria's" northern landscape, and the rest of a fabricated state, which is yet to be resolved, as troubling as it gets, until the right approach is reached in a conflict that has consumed an entrapment put together by the colonial administrators.

In wandering on a subject that had been beyond comprehension, I dabbled into like minds, Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, on the very situation that is still disturbing, today, and glued myself to his work. We had known each other at this point, and he had seen I was equally disturbed about the wholesale slaughter and Yakubu Gowon's-led genocidal campaign to wipe out the Igbo from the face of the earth, which we discussed in many instances, and which he would make the points known in his compelling essays that was unquestionably embraced by the layman, the businessman, Igbo political junkies, the academic and of course, the Igbo intellectual in his wide range of informative work.

He never stopped in his extensive research on the facts and logic about what had eaten up a colonial fabrication in its entirety and the appalling nature of its aftermath as obvious, an intention mistakenly put into perspective when the colonists made whole separate nations and created its existing confusion of continuous chaos from its mandate to take advantage of its natural resources, and decimate its human capital, made apparent today, by way of the brain drain, leaving the victims permanently disabled.

We had exchanged correspondences upon encounter, which had to do with the Pogrom and how he committed his writings, full of interest, from the 1954 Igbo Massacre in the Islamic Jihad north to the 1966 September blood bath of the Igbos, and social ills of a fabricated state which points out a range of problems never addressed by what he had always described as a "genocidist Nigeria". It had been thoughts after thoughts and unanswered questions upon reading Ekwe-Ekwe in his monologue on genocide, extensive writings, speeches on campuses, related Igbo events, and academic seminars related to the Pogrom, in what the Hausa-Fulanis had been talked into by its British and Russian allies, supplying them arms to carry out from their conviction that mass murder of an ethnic group was justified, and starving some 2 million people, most of them children, to death, bears no consequences, even upon United Nations Charter that 'Never Again", after the Holocaust and anniversary of the tragedy in Auschwitz that there would be no more such atrocities, Ekwe-Ekwe notes that the Hausa-Fulanis and their Yoruba counterparts were similar to what had happened in the concentration camps despite a UN Charter of "Never Again.".

And while we seek answers on the premise Gowon's slogan of "reconstruction" was a consolation and understanding toward steps to formal apology, the military juntas took turn in their dictatorships until they reappeared in civilian outfits, disguising their uniforms to continue from where they left, keeping up with the political obstacles that had denied access to due application of commissions as part of hope to resolve a tragedy that had been beyond comprehension.

The moment Olusegun Obasanjo was picked to take over the affairs of state, throwing away his military outfits for good, and vow "there will be no sacred cows", and an ingrained military mentality, it didn't take long before the nihilists would strike again as the Sharia debacle erupted with Igbos all around the northern landscape, their victims. Another shocking realization, and Igbos had to flee despite the fact there was a sitting and valid civilian structure headed by Obasanjo in its new democratic fabric to have avoided or protected the Igbo and other "Nigerians" upon chaos.

Ekwe-Ekwe's commentary on the tragedy within the African continent can be felt and his never ending lamentation pinpointing the atrocities committed over time, citing events orchestrated by the "Arab-led state in the Sudan", the conflicts in East Africa through Kenya's Rift Valley, the Rwandan Genocide and the "1966-1970 Igbo genocide by the Nigerian state and its allies" indicating a troubled continent as it spreads all around the hemisphere with more ravaged wars and barbarian acts than any part of the world; and very disturbing, while African leaders sit idle and watch mayhem unfold in the continent on problems he blamed on the "principal arms exporter powers" that generated the conduit to supply all the deadly weapons to have nations engage in combat.

Ekwe-Ekwe was born in Jos. His parents migrated from today's Uburu axis of Obiozara in Ohaozara Local Government of Ebonyi State in Igboland, to the northern region, in the Middle-belt area, until the "federal Nigerian forces" fired the first shot to declare war on Biafra. He attended Boys High School, Gingiri, Plateau State from 1964-1970, and was admitted to the University of Ibadan where he majored in political science, then proceeded to the University of Lancaster, in England, on scholarship from 1974 to 1977, obtaining his Masters and Doctorate degrees before heading back to Nigeria. He taught at the University of Calabar, UNICAL.  He left UNICAL and joined the Guardian Editorial team on the invitation of Stanley Macebuh. He had been worried about the coming of the military juntas and clamp on the press, fleeing the draconian laws of a brutal regime during the Muhammadu Buhari-Tunde Idiagbon dictatorship and persecution of journalists.

He was visiting professor in graduate program of constitutional law at the University of Fortaleza, Brazil, and professor of history and politics, and director of the center for cross cultural studies in Dakar, Senegal. He authored many books which includes: "The Biafran War," "Does Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God Anticipate the Igbo Genocide?" "African Literature in Defense of History: An Essay on Chinua Achebe," "Nigeria and the Aftermath: Biafra Revisited," "Issues in Nigerian Politics since the Fall of the Second Republic," "Readings From Reading" and numerous articles and essays.

It was hard for Ekwe-Ekwe to forget Africans tragedy that was sponsored by what he called "principal arms exporter powers," especially the Pogrom in which over 2.1 million people perished, reminiscing what had been done to his kin: the rape of women, the starvation of children to death and stretches of wanton killings since fabrication of the republic, which he never stopped lamenting over a very painful, and troubled past.

Ekwe-Ekwe created a blog, "Rethinking Africa", out of "boredom" for his followers, readers and folks that admired his work, throwing in some political analyses and his other gifted passion, indicative of a radical intellectual, of his day and time, with postings of stuff from the Experimental Era in which I had followed as a jazz enthusiast. I had thought I was one of very few who had likened the musical test of the hippie years until Ekwe-Ekwe's conversations in the expression of Charles Mingus' teamwork with the "geniuses" that captured the time to pave way for what would create the legends in every category of instruments played in Jazz.

Ekwe-Ekwe's frequent expose of Mingus' 1950s and his sets before the experiments of the 1960s captured my eye when he analyzed Mingus' "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" the composer and bassist had joined Charlie "Bird" Parker Quintet in the line up with Bud Powell, piano; Dizzie Gillepsie, trumpet; and Max Roach on drums at the Massey Hall Theater Concert in Toronto, May 1953, from around which both of us agreed Roach remains the best that handled the sticks. What had generated the discourse was my trip to the Charles Mingus Youth Art Center in Los Angeles, touring the complex upon festivities commemorating the 34th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Jazz Festival in the summer of 2010. I was reading every of his analyses on the score and would argue on certain perspectives and perception like my pick on the choice of John Coltrane, Parker and Eric Dolphy on sax; Wes Montgomery and George Benson on guitar; Roach, Art Blakey and Tony Williams on drums which we already agreed Roach takes the lead; and the venerable Miles Davis who took his horns to a whole new heights when jazz music had evolved to define different kinds of beats to identify with the crossover years.

Music scholarship aside, what the nihilists and Islamic Jihadists did to my kin occupied most of our discourses in personal write-ups and reviews at any given time when he sends his essays into my mailbox for readings and publications. My intent to hold an exhibition of images with story lines and captions of starvation and refugee camps which I had first posted online drew the attention of Ekwe-Ekwe on starving Igbo children at makeshift convalescent centers the vandals had plundered, horrifying to anyone who had seen it, and compelled readers to comment, unbelievable the gruesome acts happened, some would say. Ekwe-Ekwe writes;

"The Igbo generation today, our generation, must ensure that this genocide never happens again. Nigeria murdered 3.1 million Igbo children, women and men people between 29 May 1966 and 12 January 1970. This figure represents one-quarter of the Igbo nation's population at the time, The Igbo genocide is the foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa and the most devastating genocide of 20th century Africa. All those involved in the murder of the Igbo will be brought to trial. They can be sure of that. No one murders Igbo people and gets away with it. International law on the crime of genocide has no statute of limitation. This we know."

While one sits to imagine these atrocities performed by a collective of bigotry and hatred, the Islamic Jihad and their allies of genocidal campaigns, the international community in some of the instances toyed with political plays and expectations of  totality of an entire ethnic group. But the question had asked if it would ever happen again. Of course, it has happened over and over again and humankind is still not alert, and Ekwe-Ekwe never stopped lamenting.

A Man of Integrity, a Biafran War Researcher, Essayist, Literary Critique, Historian, Political Scientist, Academic, Author of Many Books, Musicologist, Jazz Enthusiast, a Thinker and Public Intellectual. Glad to have known him. Ekwe-Ekwe died Thursday, October 17, 2019 in London. He was 66.