Jaja Anucha Ndubuisi Wachuku was the First black Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives between 1959 and 1960. He was also Nigeria’s first Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Nigeria’s first minister of Foreign Affairs.
Jaja Wachuku was born in Nbawsi, Abia State, Nigeria on January 1, 1918. He was a a globally distinguished Nigerian statesman, lawyer, politician, diplomat and humanitarian, Wachuku replaced former white Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Britain’s Sir Frederic William Metcalfe, KCB (1886-1965).
He also became the first Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and hoisted Nigeria’s flag as the 99th member of the august body on 7th October 1960, which marked his instrumentality to Nigeria becoming the 58th Member State of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Monday 14th November, 1960. At the United Nations, Jaja Wachuku was elected First African Chairman of a United Nations Conciliation Commission – the Conciliation Commission to the Congo.
During his time at the UN, as well as his years as first Nigerian foreign Affairs Minister, Wachuku used his good offices to forge a good and lasting relationship with the 34th, 35th and 36th Presidents of the United States respectively- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973).
He also became good friends with the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sam Rayburn (1882-1961), U.S. Vice President Adlai Stevenson (1835-1914), American clergyman and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), U.S. Vice President Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908-1979), President of the Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II (1917-1987), Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (1898-1978), and the colourful Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), who “was the only Soviet leader ever to be removed peacefully from office – a direct result of the post-Stalin thaw he had instigated in 1956”, amongst other numerous leaders and people around the world.
From 1961 to 1965, Wachuku was the First substantive Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs.
Matriculating in 1939, Wachuku emerged the first African Gold Medalist, Laureate in Oratory of the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and was elected Executive Member of the College Historical Society in 1941. He was called to the Irish bar association – Kings Inn – in November 1944, and became fully involved in Nigeria’s constitutional conferences and struggle for independence from Britain.
After a three year law practice in Dublin, Ireland, Wachuku returned to Nigeria in 1947, armed with B.A. Legal Science degree and LL.B Prizeman in Roman law, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law. He was also a Research Fellow at the Department of International Law, Trinity College, Dublin – with the topic: “The Juristic Status of Protectorates in International Law.” Between 1947 to 1996, Wachuku served as Barrister and Solicitor of The Supreme Court of Nigeria and also practiced at the West African Court of Appeal (WACA).
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 from 1959 to 1960, receiving Nigeria’s Instrument of Independence (the Freedom Charter) on 1st October, 1960 from Princess Alexandra of Kent, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy (1936-2011), who represented her cousin the Queen of England, Elizabeth II (b.1926) at the Nigerian Independence ceremonies.
On Thursday 30 September 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria conferred on Wachuku a posthumous special Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary Award for his outstanding contributions towards the development of Nigeria.
For his primary education, Wachuku attended Infant School at St. Georges NDP Umuomainta, Nbawsi, Abia State, Nigeria. He was School Band Leader and Prefect at Government School Afikpo, Ebonyi State, Nigeria – from where he graduated in 1930 – having come first in the whole of Ogoja Province in the First Leaving School Certificate Examination. This first position got him automatic Scholarship for his secondary school education at Government College Umuahia, Abia State from 1931 to 1936.
Also, he acquired vocational skills in carpentry, farming and metal works. From 1936 to 1937, Wachuku was on Scholarship to Yaba Higher College, Lagos, Nigeria. 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 Gold Coast, now Ghana – in the World Essay Competition offered by New History Society of New York, USA (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 co-founder and original shareholder, with Nnamdi Azikiwe, of the African Continental Bank (ACB). And was the 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 1951, Jaja Anucha Wachuku married Rhoda Idu Oona Onumonu (1920 to 1994). She was an unwavering source of solid emotional support, care, love, strength, perseverance and worthy inspiration to Jaja Wachuku. She fondly called her husband “Anucha.” Rhoda Jaja Wachuku’s primary education was in Oguta, Imo State, Nigeria. She later attended Women Training College (WTC), Umuahia; as well as Achimota College, Gold Coast, now Ghana. She also studied at West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, Glasgow. Jaja and Rhoda had five children.
Jaja Wachuku died on October 7, 1996 in Enugu, Nigeria.