Written by Wole Mosadomi
“What would have been my wish and joy is to witness the commissioning of the Centre named after me as I have just witnessed the fund-raising and foundation laying ceremonies.”
THIS was the sentiment expressed by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1991 at the well- attended fund raising ceremony to build the Zik Centre located in Zungeru, Niger State where he was born in 1904.
The edifice was actually conceived in 1999 to serve as a gift to mark the 89th birthday and to immortalise the name of Nigeria’s first indigenous president fondly called Zik of Africa due to his immense contribution to liberation struggles in the continent.
Zik’s love for the Centre was never in doubt as he had in 1983 during his presidential campaign under the platform of the defunct Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, taken time off his political schedule to offer prayers at the spot very close to his birth place in Zungeru.
He promised to uplift the spot by erecting a library of international standard. Unfortunately he could not redeem this promise before his demise.
About 20 years ago, precisely on Saturday, November 16,1991, the Bako Kontagora Memorial Stadium, Minna played host to a gathering of eminent Nigerians who came to honour this distinguished icon.
The gathering was to raise funds for the building of an edifice in honour of Zik and to have him commission it. The target was N50 million which was the amount required to complete the centre. But as a testimony of the love Nigerians have for him, that amount was exceeded.
Prominent Nigerians, including past Heads of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Alhaji Usman Shehu Shagari and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who was the incumbent military president then, graced the occasion.
As part of the plan, the distinguished Nigerians, which included Dr. Azikiwe and other past Heads of State drove straight to the site in Zungeru where the Center would be built. The foundation was laid and work started immediately. But the work was short-lived as it was abandoned few years after.
Unfortunately on November 12, 1996, it was the remains of Zik that was taken to the abandoned Centre as part of activities to mark his final burial funeral.
The organisers were smart. The decision to take Zik’s corpse to the abandoned Centre was deliberate. It was to draw the attention of government and well wishers on the need to restrategise and raise additional funds to complete the building.
A beautiful podium was erected at the centre of the building while decorative embellishments adorned the walls to make them look attractive for the brief ceremony.
Most of those present were not impressed by this cosmetic approach as they could not hide their disappointment with the non-completion of the project.
The brief ceremony which lasted for less than one hour was over and dignitaries departed with no official statement on the completion of the Centre.
Fourteen years ago when Vanguard Metro, VM visited the site at Zungeru, the edifice was still looking solid though overgrown with grasses and taken over by different types of reptiles, including snakes.
The edifice was still being guarded by only one security guard who told VM that the other three had to abandon the site after about four yeas of unpaid salaries either from the construction company handing the project or from government, adding: “I am only here hoping that the arrears would be paid one day”.
Just some few days ago, there were noticeable cracks on the building which is almost overgrown with grasses and has become a permanent abode of reptiles.
Apart from that, it has also become a hideout for hoodlums who may have taken advantage of its closeness to the busy highway to unleash terror on innocent travellers and even people of the town, especially at night.
As at 1991 when the idea was conceived, the Centre was to gulp about N50 million. But in 1996 when the price was revisited, about N120 million was said to be needed to complete it.
About 12 years ago, the National Secretary for the Centre, Chief Rowland Anyanwu, in an interview few days to the final burial of Dr. Azikiwe, said the Centre had as at then gulped N52 million, adding that the money was paid directly to the contractor handling the project.
He explained that about N60 million was realised on the spot during the official fund raising in 1991 but that due to galloping inflation, especially on building materials between 1991 and 1992, the project could not be completed on schedule.
He said most of the pledges by prominent Nigerians amounting to about N8 million were not redeemed then.
Three months to the death of Zik, a delegation was sent to the Owelle in his home town on the need for him to personally take bold steps towards convicing government and his political associates to complete the edifice.
The former Nigerian president who was elated, promised to take immediate steps to see to the completion of the project; but death stopped his ambition and the hope of completing the project remains shattered.
In an interview with VM, the Eze Ndigbo, Minna Niger State, Dr. Pampas Ngozi Nwahiwe, described the development as unfortunate and called for government intervention immediately.
He recalled that though the project was initiated by associates of the late Zik in 1991, most of them are either late, while those still alive are no longer strong enough to champion the cause. He, therefore, called on the Niger State government to take up the challenge of completing the edifice which is in its territory.
He suggested the redesigning of the structure to accommodate a library which was the dream of Zik, a conference centre and other tourists attractions which will invariably bring tourists to the state and improve the revenue profile of the state after which another funding raising can be organised with the federal and state governments, especially the South East governors and other prominent Nigerians, adequately involved.
Dr. Nwahiwe said after the burial of Zik, the burial committee headed by former Information Minister, the late Mallam Garba Wushishi of which he was also a member presented a post-mortem report to the fund raising committee on the need for all stakeholders to come together towards completing the building, but unfortunately, the sudden death of Malam Wushishi stalled the efforts in this regard. Since then, nobody has taken over the challenge.
In an interview with some traders along the highway close to the edifice, they said there is an urgent need for the project to be completed in order to flush out some hoodlums who have now taken over the place as their hideout.
One of them, Ibrahim Mohammed, who spoke in Hausa, told VM that though he has been seeing the building for over ten years, he is not aware of what the project stands for, adding: “What I know is that it is a government property.
And since you said it is in honour of our former president, there is the urgent need for government to take it over for completion in order to encourage the present leaders in the country to know that they can still be remembered and honoured even when they are dead”.