Early Life and Education
Jaja Anucha Wachuku was the son of Josaiah Ndubuisi Wachuku, the Paramount Chief and Head of all Ngwa of the then Aba Division of Eastern Nigeria, while his mother, Rebecca Ngwanchiwa Wachuku was a pioneer Women’s rights advocate and royal land-owner.
Wachuku attended Infant School at St. Georges NDP Umuomainta, Nbawsi, Abia State. He was school band leader and prefect at Government School Afikpo, Ebonyi State. He left there in 1930, having come first in the whole of Ogoja Province in the First School Leaving Certificate Examination. This first position got him an automatic scholarship for his secondary school education at Government College Umuahia, Abia State, from 1931 to 1936. At Government College Umuahia, Wachuku was a House Prefect. He played tennis and cricket, and was in the first eleven of the college football team.
Also, he acquired vocational skills in carpentry, farming and metal works. From 1936 to 1937, Wachuku was on scholarship to Yaba Higher College, Lagos. He was withdrawn from Yaba by his father Josaiah Ndubuisi Wachuku and sent to Gold Coast People’s College, Adidome. From there, he went to New Africa University College, Anloga, in preparation for further studies abroad.
While at New Africa University College, he won a Foundation Scholarship and also won the First National Prize for the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the World Essay Competition offered by the New History Society of New York (led by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab), on the subject: “How Can the People of the World Achieve Universal Disarmament?” From New Africa University College, Wachuku left for Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland.
Wachuku was the first African gold medallist, Laureate in Oratory of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. He matriculated at Trinity College in 1939, and in 1941, was elected Executive Member of the College Historical Society. Wachuku represented University of Dublin during the 1943 Inter-University Debate held at University of Durham.
He was called to the Irish bar association, the Kings Inn, in November 1944. Wachuku practised law in Dublin for three years, before returning to Nigeria in 1947. From 1947 to 1996, Wachuku served as barrister and solicitor of The Supreme Court of Nigeria. He also practised at the West African Court of Appeal (WACA).
Political And Professional Life
Wachuku returned to Nigeria in 1947, In the same year of his return to Nigeria, Wachuku joined the NCNC, and was elected the Party’s Legal Adviser and Member of the National Executive Committee. He soon got involved in the nationalist agitation of that period and was a favoured lecturer at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos.
There, in one of his lectures, Wachuku provoked national controversy when he declared Lagos a “no-man’s land” meaning that it was an all-Nigerian city – wherein all Nigerians were entitled to equal rights. Among other responsibilities, Jaja Wachuku was Principal Secretary of the Igbo State Union from 1948 to 1952.
In 1949, he founded a radical youth movement, the New Africa Party (NAP), and affiliated it to the NCNC in 1950. NCNC was later called: National Council of Nigerian Citizens.
Wachuku was co-founder and original shareholder, with Nnamdi Azikiwe, of the African Continental Bank (ACB), and first regional director of the bank, from 1948 to 1952. As ACB Director, he facilitated the opening of branches in Aba, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Enugu.
Jaja Wachuku started his political career from the grassroots. In 1948, he was first nominated village councillor and later to the Nsulu Group Council. From 1949 to 1952, he was a Member of the Ngwa Native Authority, Okpuala Ngwa. In 1951, he entered regional politics and was elected Second Member for Aba Division in the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly.
From 1952 to 1953, Wachuku was elected Deputy Leader of the NCNC and Chairman of the Parliamentary Party when there was crisis in Nigeria’s Eastern Region, resulting in the dissolution of the Eastern House of Assembly. Also, from 1952 to 1953, he was Chairman of the Eastern Regional Scholarship Board and Member of the Finance Committee in the House of Representatives of Nigeria.
Wachuku went to the 1953 Constitutional Conference in London as Alternate Delegate and Adviser to the Nigerian Independence Party (NIP), a break-away faction that was formed following the NCNC crisis of 1953.
In 1954, Wachuku lost the Eastern Regional election and ceased to be a member of the House of Representatives. Later on in 1954, when the principle of direct election to the House of Representatives was introduced, he was re-elected first member for the Aba Division in the House of Representatives; as well as member of United Nigeria Independence Party (UNIP) – amalgamation of the Nigerian Independence Party and another party. In 1957, Wachuku became Deputy Leader of opposition when he joined the NCNC. From 1957 to 1959, he was a Board member of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN). Also, in 1957, for the following three years, he was appointed member of the Local Education Authority and chairman of the board of Education in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. During the same period, Wachuku was also Chairman of Aba Divisional Committee of the NCNC.
Accordingly, in 1957, Wachuku was the Leader of the Nigerian Federation Delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Meeting held in India, Pakistan and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. He also represented Nigeria in Liberia during the opening of the New Parliament Building in Monrovia. From 1958 to 1959, Wachuku was Chairman of the Business Committee in the House of Representatives of Nigeria. He was also a member of the Parliamentary Committee on the Nigerianization of the Federal Civil Service. He wrote the Committee’s Report assisted by Michael O. Ani. In 1959, Wachuku was re-elected into the House of Representatives from Aba Division; and was, subsequently, elected the first indigenous Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives.
First Speaker of the House
From 1959 to 1960, Wachuku was the first indigenous Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria. He replaced Sir Frederic Metcalfe of Great Britain. Notably, as First Speaker of the House, Wachuku received Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence – also known as Freedom Charter, on 1 October 1960 from Princess Alexandra of Kent – Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom)’s representative at the Nigerian Independence ceremonies. On a 1960 United States tour as the House of Representatives Speaker, Jaja Wachuku was honoured and presented with the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Blue Seal and Key to the City of Atlanta, Georgia.
First Ambassador to the United Nations
From 1960 to 1961, Wachuku served as first Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations in New York, as well as Federal Minister for Economic Development. He hoisted Nigeria’s flag as the 99th member of the United Nations on 7 October 1960. Accordingly, Jaja Wachuku was instrumental to Nigeria becoming the 58th Member State of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday 14 November 1960. Also, as First Ambassador of Nigeria to the United Nations, Wachuku represented the country at the independence celebrations of Tanganyika, now known as United Republic of Tanzania. At the United Nations, with member nations support; plus friendship and respect from UNSG: United Nations Secretary General: Dag Hammarskjöld, Jaja Wachuku was elected First African Chairman of a United Nations Conciliation Commission, the Conciliation Commission to the Congo from January to March 1961. Initial proposal and nomination of Wachuku to be mediator in Congo came from Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium.
At the United Nations, he soon stood out in excellence and visionary, selfless service to his country Nigeria and the rest of humankind. Under Wachuku’s leadership at the United Nations, both the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Police Force made their début in international peacekeeping under the auspices of the World Organization. During his time at the United Nations, Nigeria’s Major-General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi was appointed Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in the Congo. Also, the first Nigerian Permanent Secretary, Mr. Francis Nwokedi was retained by the United Nations to help in the reorganisation of the Civil Service in the Congo. Wachuku also secured the appointment of the first African Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Nigeria’s Godfrey K. J. Amachree who became UN under Secretary-General for Trusteeship and Non-Self-Governing Territories.
First foreign affairs minister
From 1961 to 1965, Wachuku was the First substantive Nigerian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs. Before Wachuku’s tenure, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister, doubled as Foreign Affairs advocate of Nigeria from 1960 to 1961 when he created an official Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations ministerial position in favour of Mr. Wachuku as pioneer Minister.
On 14 July 1962, he was decorated with the insignia of the “Commander of the Order of the Niger Republic” in recognition of services to the People of the Republic of Niger by President Hamani Diori. As Foreign Affairs Minister, Jaja Wachuku organised the Afro/Asian group of States and worked to get Liberia voted into the United Nations Security Council, and Ethiopia into the Economic and Social Council. He also worked towards the amendment of the United Nations Charter – increasing the Security Council from eleven to fifteen taking into account African nations.
Jaja Wachuku as Foreign Affairs Minister of Nigeria preferred quiet consultation, especially with the two major Anglo-American powers: Great Britain and the United States in search of solutions to continental and international problems. For example, there was a lot of hue and cry as a result of the Rivonia Trial in South Africa in 1963 following the arrest of Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Lionel Bernstein and others. They and Nelson Mandela, who was serving term on his 1962 conviction, were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the Government by revolution and by assisting an armed invasion of South Africa by foreign troops. These charges were treasonable and carried the death penalty. Jaja Wachuku quietly invited Lord Head, the British High Commissioner in Lagos and also United States’ Ambassador Joseph Palmer II – and strongly urged them to intercede with their governments to prevail on the apartheid regime in South Africa – not to impose the death penalty on Nelson Mandela and others. Wachuku employed the same quiet diplomacy on the matter with US Secretary of State Dean Rusk and British Foreign Secretary Lord Home. Subsequently, Lionel Bernstein was acquitted and Mandela and the rest were given life imprisonment terms.
Wachuku also foresaw the danger of recognising military coup as a way to change government. In Ethiopia, he strongly refused to accord recognition to the Nicolas Grunitzky Government in Togo after 13 January 1963 first coup in that country. Wachuku believed that if that first African coup by the Togolese army was recognised as a way to change government, then, coup-making would spread in Africa.
In Addis Ababa, during the Inaugural Conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia sat Wachuku down in the presence of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and begged Balewa to plead with his “Foreign Minister Jaja Wachuku” to accept that the Togolese government be admitted to take part in that first OAU Conference. Wachuku jokingly reminded Emperor Haile Selassie and Prime Minister Balewa that he was only number three in the Nigerian Government, and that coup plotters go for numbers one and two, President or Head of State and Prime Minister. Jaja Wachuku added that by the time coup makers got to number three, he would be resting in his village.
At the end, Wachuku refused to change his diplomatic position of not allowing Togo to participate because the Togolese Government came to power by coup. Therefore, Togo became the only independent African country that was not represented at the Inaugural Conference of the OAU. History has already told us whether Wachuku was right or wrong. Even Kwame Nkrumah who was one of the most vocal supporters of the Togolese government of coup makers, later fell victim of the coup contagion. As for Jaja Wachuku, he had resigned from the Nigerian parliament and government at midday of 14 January 1966 – twelve hours before the first Nigerian military coup of 15 January 1966 led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
From 1965 to midday 14 January 1966, Wachuku was Nigeria’s minister of aviation. With most of the aviation laws in Nigeria bearing his signature, Wachuku initiated training programmes for Nigeria’s first crop of Flight and Ground Officers. The Aviation Training Centre, Zaria was established during his tenure. During his tenure as aviation minister, there was a controversy involving the Board Chairman of the Nigerian Airways. His visionary and upright zeal, however, did not go well with his party, the NCNC – a party which saw Mr. Blankson, Nigerian Airways Board chairman and also the party’s Central Working Committee chairman, as representing NCNC’s interest in the spoils system. From the Chairmanship of the Nigerian Airways Board, Wachuku fired and removed Blankson who felt himself beyond ministerial control. His party, the NCNC demanded the reinstatement of Blankson – otherwise the party would withdraw its Ministers from the coalition government. Thus, Nigeria was faced with a potential crisis which would have compounded the already grave state of emergency in the country.
The Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who had high respect and a soft spot for Jaja Wachuku pleaded with him to reinstate Blankson and accept another ministry. Wachuku refused. Balewa even asked his wife Rhoda Idu Jaja Wachuku to plead with him, yet he refused and tendered his resignation from Parliament and as Executive Member of Government midday 14 January 1966. Balewa was yet to accept Wachuku’s resignation when the army struck by mid-night; barely 12 hours later – thus ushering in the era of military coups in Nigeria. Wachuku’s official residence, at 7, Okotie-Eboh Street Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, was surrounded by soldiers. His younger brother: Kennedy Madu Wachuku, father of Ugonna Wachuku was with him that day; Jaja Wachuku looked through the window in the early hours of the morning and asked the soldiers: “What are you boys doing here?” One of the soldiers replied: “Good morning, Sir. But haven’t you heard what is happening in the country?” To which Wachuku replied: “Yes. I know you boys have taken over the Government.” And the soldier said: “Do not be afraid, Sir. We have come to protect you for being an honest Government Minister. Jaja Wachuku survived the military coup.
Civil war Years
After the government was overthrown, Jaja Wachuku retired to his home town, first to Aba and subsequently to Nbawsi, his village when Aba fell during the Nigerian – Biafran war that lasted from July 1967 to January 1970. During the Biafran war, he participated in the struggle of his Igbo people for freedom and justice against a country that had rejected them by not protecting them from genocide and brutality. Later, during the war, Wachuku fell out with the Government of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu because he spoke out against the recruitment of child soldiers. He was arrested and detained by the Ojukwu Government. And was, at the end of the Biafran war released by a young Nigerian Army Officer called Theophilus Danjuma.
The Nigerian soldiers were shocked and dismayed that their first Speaker of the House of Representatives, first Ambassador to the United Nations and first Foreign Affairs Minister was in detention for exercising his freedom of speech and fundamental human rights. So, Theophilus Danjuma and his military battalion gave Jaja Wachuku adequate protection and security. Wachuku was escorted home by Nigerian soldiers. And he managed to prevent the looting and destruction of his amazing, vast library located at his country home in Nbawsi Abia State, Nigeria. After the Biafran war, Wachuku was involved in Community development affairs while practising his law profession. From 1970 to 1978, he served as Chairman of Nbawsi and Umuomainta Town Council, and also chairman Nsulu Community Council. He was also a Founding Member of the Movement for the creation of Imo State, and leader, of the Movement for the creation of Aba State.
Second Republic politics
During Nigeria’s second republic – 1979 to 1984, Jaja Wachuku was, on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), twice (1978 and 1983) elected Senator representing Aba Senatorial Zone of Africa’s most populous country. At the Senate of Nigeria, he became NPP Leader and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During this period, he made various dangerous secret trips to South Africa for meetings with President Pieter Willem Botha to put pressure on him for the dismantling of the obnoxious apartheid system; including the unconditional pardon and release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.
It was during this period that, on the floor of the Nigerian Senate, Wachuku made his famous, prophetic statement that the defeat of apartheid in South Africa “shall flow from the barrels of dialogue and contact, not from the barrels of isolation and guns”. He was later removed from the Foreign Relations Committee because of officially calling for dialogue with South Africa. During the 1990 years, when Nigeria started diplomatic relations with South Africa, most prominent politicians and historians in the country called for an apology to Jaja Wachuku. In 1983, he was re-elected to the Nigerian Senate until the Muhammadu Buhari military coup of December 1983.
Jaja Wachuku died at the age of 78 at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital [UNTH] Enugu State, Nigeria, on the morning of Thursday, 7th of November 1996.
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