NELSON Mandela, global human rights icon and the first Black President of South Africa, would have been 100 years old on Wednesday, July 18, but his death not withstanding, the whole world remember him as a model of statesmanship and leadership.
Born July 18, 1918, Mandela served as South Africa’s President for just one term, between 1994 and 1999, but before this time, he had spent 27 years in prison as a result of his fight against the apartheid regime in the country.
But shortly before he was eventually arrested and imprisoned, Mandela, a lawyer by training, fled to Nigeria in 1963 to take refuge, having been repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and prosecuted for treason in 1956.
While in Nigeria, Mandela lived at the home of Mbazulike Amaechi, the Minister of Aviation, at the recommendation of Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik), then Nigerian President, and Michael Okpara, then Premier of the Eastern Region.
Narrating the experience in an interview with The Vanguard at his hometown, Ukpor, Anambra State, in December 2013, Mbazulike said the six months Mandela spent with him were quite memorable.
“When Mandela came to Nigeria, Zik as the leader of the nationalist group in Nigeria in consultation with Okpara decided that they should find a nationalist of Mandela’s caliber who would accommodate him,” Mbazulike narrated.
“So they called on me to take Mandela and accommodate him. At that time, I was the parliamentary secretary and also a member of the parliament before I became a minister.
“He moved into my house and stayed for about six or more months with me and my wife. I was then newly married while he was in his early 40’s or so.
“We used to go out together and both the British intelligence and the South African intelligence services knew that he was with me, but there was nothing they could do about it because I was in government.”
However, Mandela, the revolutionary that he was, knew that he could not run for ever, and decided to return to South Africa and face whatever fate held for him.
Mbazulike said: “After sometime, during our discussions, he (Mandela) said: “My stay here, how long will it last? I think I better return to South Africa. They will either kill me or send me to prison and it will spur the other nationalists remaining to continue with the struggle”.
“So, after about six or seven months in my house, he decided to move back to South Africa. When he went back, he was promptly arrested, charged and sentenced to life imprisonment. He went to prison, but the nationalism in him did not depart from him.”
Mbazulike added that Mandela wrote him letters while he was in prison, and continued even after his release and subsequent ascent to the Presidency.
“This is the letter he wrote me from the prison on the 18th of February, 1964, he signed the letter as Nelson Mandela, prisoner No 116570/63,” Mbazulike said
In 1993, shortly after his release, Mandela visited Nigeria in appreciation of the hospitality shown to him when he was in the country on exile, and he made sure to meet with Mbazulike.
“He specifically requested to see me and Dr. Azikiwe,” Mbazulike said. “So, when he came to Enugu, the then governor, Col. Robert Akonobi, because we were in military rule then, wrote me to say Mandela wanted to see me.
“I honoured the invitation and I went to Enugu with my wife to see him. He was in the company of his former wife, Winnie. We shared some time together before he went back to South Africa.”
In celebration of Mandela’s 100th birthday, Barack Obama, former President of the United States of America, urged African and world leaders to emulate the late icon’s ideals of freedom and utmost respect for human rights.
Obama said: “It shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more, instead of saying, “Wow, I’ve got so much. Who can I help? How can I give more and more and more?” That’s ambition. That’s impact. That’s influence.”