Dr. Azikiwe, an Ibo from southeast Nigeria, presided over a democratic Government that was in power for a mere three years before the regional tensions that have marked the country’s politics ever since led to the first of many military coups. But as a lawyer, political scientist, journalist, political activist, President and for many years Nigeria’s elder statesman, Dr. Azikiwe towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country.
After years of agitation for nationhood, Dr. Azikiwe became Governor General of the Nigerian Federation at independence from Britain in 1960, and President in 1963, when the country was declared a republic. While in office, he introduced universal adult suffrage and moved to extend schooling throughout the country. When Nigeria’s civil war erupted in 1967, after a disastrous attempt at secession led by the Ibo general Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Dr. Azikiwe broke ranks with leaders from his own ethnic group who supported the bid to form an independent nation called Biafra.
EARLY LIFE AND BACKGROUND
Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904, in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. Nnamdi means “My father is alive” in the Igbo language. His parents were Igbo; his father Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe (1879–1958), an Onitsha-indigene and clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria who traveled extensively because of the nature of his job. Zik’s mother was Rachel Chinwe Azikiwe sometimes called Nwanonaku whose family was descended from a royal house in Onitsha; her paternal great grandfather was Obi Anazenwu.
Azikiwe had one sibling, a sister named Cecilia Eziamaka Arinze.Growing up as a young boy in Northern Nigeria, Azikiwe spoke Hausa, the language of the region, however, his father apprehensive of his child’s fluency in Hausa and not Igbo sent him to Onitsha in 1912 to live with his paternal grandmother and aunt in order to learn the Igbo language and culture. In Onitsha, he attended Holy Trinity School, a Roman Catholic Mission school and then Christ Church School, an Anglican primary school. In 1914, his father was working in Lagos and when Azikiwe was bitten by a dog, his father worried about Zik’s health asked him to come to Lagos so as to heal and also attend school in the city.
Two years later, his father was posted out of Lagos to Kaduna and Azikiwe briefly lived with a relative who was married to a Muslim from Sierra Leone. He was back in Onitsha by 1918 and finished his elementary education at CMS Central School where he also served as a pupil-teacher supporting his mother with some of his earnings. In 1920, his father was posted back to Southern Nigeria in the Southeastern city of Calabar. Zik joined his father in Calabar and started his secondary school at Hope Waddell Training College. In Calabar, he was introduced to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Garveyism later an important part in his nationalistic rhetoric.
After Hope Waddell, Calabar, Azikiwe
transferred to Methodist Boys High School Lagos. There he was friends with classmates from old Lagos families such as George Shyngle, Francis Cole and Ade Williams, the son of Akarigbo Remo, connections that served in later in Lagos. While at Methodist, he listened to a lecture delivered by James Aggrey, an educationist who believed that nothing but the best was good for Africa. Aggrey also believed Africans should get collegiate education abroad and come home to effect change.
After the lecture, Aggrey gave the young Zik a list of schools accepting black students in America. After completing his secondary education, Zik applied to the colonial service and was accepted as a clerk in the treasury department. His entry to colonial service also made him face the racial bias within the colnial government. Determined to travel abroad to study, he applied to various universities in the U.S and received admission from Storer College, whose president responded that they will like to have him if he can find a way to America. To reach America, he contacted a seaman and made a deal with him to become a stowaway. However, one of his friends on the ship fell sick and they were advised to disembark in Sekondi.
In Ghana Zik got employment as a police officer. While working in Ghana, his mother visited him and asked him to return to Nigeria, Zik reluctantly headed his mother request. When he arrived Nigeria, his father was ready to sponsor his trip to U.S, and Zik 300 pounds to travel to U.S.
Azikiwe first attended Storer College, a two-year preparatory school, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. In U.S he took to doing various odd jobs to support his tuition and living expenses. He initially struggled working without a major sponsorship and also feeling lonesome and depressed, feelings he later overcame. Azikiwe participated in Storer’s athletics and cross-country teams before he transferred to Howard University, Washington DC, He then enrolled and graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1930, obtaining a master’s degree in Religion from Lincoln University in 1932 and another master’s degree in Anthropology from University of Pennsylvania in 1934.
Azikiwe became a graduate student instructor in the history and political science department at Lincoln creating an African history course. He was a candidate for a doctorate degree from Columbia before returning to Nigeria in 1934. His main doctorate research was Liberia in world politics and the research paper was published by A.H. Stockwell in 1934. During the time he was in America, Azikiwe was a columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American, Philadelphia Tribune and the Associated Negro Press. He was influenced by the ideals of the African American press, Garveyism and Pan-Africanism while writing for those papers.
CAREER AND HEROIC WORKS
As a result of publishing an article on 15 May 1936, entitled “Has the African a God?” written by I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson he was brought to trial on charges of sedition. Although he was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to six months in prison, he was acquitted on appeal. He returned to Lagos, Nigeria, in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot, which he used as a vehicle to foster Nigerian nationalism. He founded the Zik Group of Newspapers, publishing multiple newspapers in cities across the country.
Azikiwe became active in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the first genuinely nationalist organization in Nigeria. However, in 1941 he backed Samuel Akinsanya to be NYM candidate for a vacant seat in the Legislative Council, but the executive selected Ernest Ikoli instead. Azikiwe resigned from the NYM accusing the NYM mostly Yoruba leadership of discrimination against the Ijebu-Yoruba members, Ibos and some Ijebu members with him and thus splitting the NYM along ethnic lines.
After a successful journalism enterprise, Azikiwe entered into politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) alongside Herbert Macaulay in 1944. He became the secretary-general of the National Council in 1946, and was elected to Legislative Council of Nigeria the following year. In 1951, he became the leader of the Opposition to the government of Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region’s House of Assembly after losing the four-cornered elections to the Action Group.
In 1952, he moved to the Eastern Region, and was elected to the position of Chief Minister and in 1954 became Premier of Nigeria’s Eastern Region. On 16 November 1960, he became the Governor General, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister. On the same day became the first Nigerian named to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. With the proclamation of a republic in 1963, he became the first President of Nigeria. In both posts, Azikiwe’s role was largely ceremonial.
Azikiwe and his civilian colleagues were removed from power in the military coup of 15 January 1966. He was the most prominent politician to escape the spate of assassinations following the coup. During the Biafran (1967–1970) war of secession, Azikiwe became a spokesman for the nascent republic and an adviser to its leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. He switched allegiance back to Nigeria during the war and publicly appealed to Ojukwu to end the war in pamphlets and interviews published at the time.
After the war, he served as Chancellor of University of Lagos from 1972 to 1976. He joined the Nigerian People’s Party in 1978, making unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1979 and again in 1983. He left politics involuntarily after the military coup on 31 December 1983. He died on 11 May 1996, at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in Enugu, Enugu State, after a protracted illness. He was buried in his native Onitsha.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND PERSONAL LIFE
He was inducted into the prestigious Agbalanze society of Onitsha as Nnayelugo in 1946, a customary recognition for Onitsha men of significant accomplishment. Then, in 1962, he became a second-rank red cap chieftain or Ndichie Okwa as the Oziziani Obi. In 1972, he was installed as the Owelle-Osowa-Anya of Onitsha, making him a first-rank, hereditary red cap nobleman or Ndichie Ume.
In 1960, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. He was conferred with the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in 1980. He has received fourteen honorary degrees from Nigerian, American and Liberian universities, which include Lincoln University, Storer College, Howard University, Michigan State University, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos, Ahmadu Bello University, University of Ibadan, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and University of Liberia.
He was a member of many organizations and societies, including Anti-Slavery Society for the protection of Human Rights; Phi Beta Sigma fraternity (Mu Chapter); West African Students’ Union; Onitsha Improvement Union; Zik’s Athletic Club; Ekine Sekiapu Society of Buguma, Kalabari; St. John’s Lodge of England; Royal Economic Society; Royal Anthropological Institute; British Association for the Advancement of Science; American Society of International Law; American Anthropological Association; American Political Science Association; American Ethnological Society; Amateur Athletic Association of Nigeria; Nigerian Swimming Association, Nigerian Boxing Board of Control; Nigerian Cricket Association; Ibo State Union; Nigerian Table Tennis Association; Nigeria Olympic Committee and British Empire and Commonwealth Games Association
During his lifetime, he held several political posts, especially in Nigeria. They include Executive Committee Member of Mambili Party, Accra (1935–37); General Secretary of National Council of Nigerian and the Cameroons (1944–45); President of the NCNC (1946–60); Vice-President of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (1947–60); Member for Lagos in the Legislative Council of Nigeria (1947–51); Member for Lagos and Leader of the Opposition in the Western House of Assembly (1952–53) Member for Onitsha in the Eastern House of Assembly (1954–60); Minister of Internal Affairs (Jan.–September 1954); Minister of Internal Affairs, Eastern Region (1954); Member of His Excellency Privy Council, Eastern Nigeria (1954–59); Primer of Eastern Nigeria (1954–59); President of the Senate of the Federation (January–November 1960); Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria (1960–63); President of the Republic of Nigeria (1963–1966); and Chairman and Presidential candidate of the Nigeria People’s Party (1978–83).
Azikiwe was actively involved in sports at every stage of his life, and he was successful in many of the events that he participated in. They include Welterweight Boxing Champion Storer College (1925–27); High Jump champion, Howard University Inter-Scholastic Games (1926); Gold Medalist in Cross Country, Storer College (1927); Back-stroke Swimming Champion and No. 3 swimmer in Freestyle Relay team, Howard University (1928); Captain, Lincoln University Soccer Team (1930); Winner Two Miles Run, Central Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association Championships at Hampton Institute Virginia (1931); Bronze Medalist, Richmond Cross Country Marathon (1931); Gold Medalist in the 1,000 yard run, One Mile Run and Three Mile Run, Catedonian Games in Brooklyn, NY (1932); Silver Trophy winner in the Half Mile race, and Silver Cup winner in the One Mile Race, Democratic Field Day Championships, New Haven, Connecticut (1933); Runner-up (with G. K. Dorgu) at the Lagos Tennis Men’s Double Championships (Division B 1938); anchor man for the ZAC team which won the 50 yards Freestyle Relay at the Lagos Swimming Championships (1939).
He won letters in athletics (Lincoln University) and cross country (Storer College and Lincoln University), swimming (Howard University), and football (soccer) (Lincoln University); entered to compete in the Half-Mile Race and One-Mile run at the British Empire Games to represent Nigeria, but was rejected by the A.A.A. of Great Britain on technical grounds (he dropped his English Christian name, “Benjamin”); and founded (with M. R. B. Ottun) of the Zik’s Athletic Club to promote athletics, boxing, cricket, football, swimming and tennis in Nigeria.
1st President of Nigeria(1 October 1963 – 16 January 1966 )
3rd Governor-General of Nigeria(16 November 1960 – 1 October 1963)
1st President of the Senate of Nigeria(1 January 1960 – 1 October 1960)
Nationalist: Independence Fighter
Nigeria’s first President and a vigorous champion of African independence from European colonial rule, died Saturday in a hospital in his native eastern Nigeria after a long illness. He was 91.
Life Lesson From Nnamdi Azikiwe
BEING ENIGMA IN NATURE
For those who lived in colonial Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe was believed to be a superman sent to free us from alien rule of the British. Many didn’t understand him so many stories were made up concerning the person of Zik. A part of such stories has it that Zik as a child saw an old woman carrying a heavy load. He helped her carry it to her house and on getting to her place, the woman asked him what she should do for him and Zik said he wanted wisdom and power. The woman was actually a spirit. The story continues that she cut Zik into pieces, boiled him in a pot and magically brought him back to life. On her request Zik killed her to avoid her doing the same to another man and this explains the wisdom and power Zik has over his fellow man. Myths like this helped to situate him in legendary proportions.
THE FREEDOM FIGHTER
Zik was the indefatigable fighter for freedom and equality even though at independence the role he took was tragic. Zik on all fronts was expected to be the Prime Minister of the new independent Nigeria but he compromised to be in coalition with the NPC which made him occupy a figure head role as Governor-General and later ceremonial President. this compromise was what left the Igbo unclad.
ESCAPING THE FIRST MILITARY COUP IN NIGERIA
The first coup in the country was such that most victims of that coup were all Northerners perpetuated by mainly Igbo officers even though it was meant to cut across board. During this exercise that will continue to live in infamy, Zik was out of the country on a medical trip to treat a lung infection. This trip was duely agreed on with Tafawa Belewa being the Prime Minister then. While on this trip he also met with Haiti’s dictator, ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier. However some of the coup plotters believed that Major Ifeajuna (one of the plotters) tipped off Zik on the coup that was being planned.
ZIK AS THE FOREFRONT PIONEER
Among many things Zik was at the forefront of pioneering many things in Nigeria and also occupying various positions. He was the first indigenous Senate President of Nigeria in January 1960, the first indigenous Governor-General of Nigeria on November 16, 1960 and also the first President of Nigeria when the nation became a republic in 1963. He was also the premier of the Eastern Region from October 1954 to December 1959.
ALWAYS BE A PEACE MAKER
In November 1934, Zik became the editor of the African Morning Post in Ghana. There he published a piece which he titled “Has the African a God” which led to him being charged with sedition, found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison but was acquitted after an appeal. He later founded The West African Pilot in Lagos which he used to promote unity in the country.
Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya used to sneak out of Kings College, Lagos to go and listen to Zik deliver lectures in public. He saw the elder statesman as an embodiment of all the virtues a man of the people can have. Among these was his respect for the opinion of others, charisma and an undying nationalism. He also recounts of an event where he, Ogunsanya was the chairman and when Zik was about to speak he said; Mr Chairman, can I have your permission to say one or two things? Ogunsanya was surprised that Zik could be calling a small boy like him Mr. Chairman.
BE BOLD AND CONFIDENCE IN YOUR ASPECT
Zik was more like a god when the colonialists were in Nigeria. “His orders” were feared by everybody including the police. Zik had “a varied nature. But he was more patient, perhaps accountable by age difference, but his patience can be overtaxed and when he wants to fight, he fights like a wounded lion”. In describing the man Zik had a messianic outlook like Mahatma Gandhi of India in certain respects. But unlike Gandhi who said he was the light and the way, Zik only showed the light for people to find the way.
AS A LEADER DON’T LET ANY MISFORTUNE WEIGH YOU DOWN
Zik was expected to be Prime Minister in 1960 but Tafawa Balewa was picked instead and he has wonderful response when he was being sworn-in as Governor-General. In quoting Douglas Malloch “If you can’t be a sun, be a star.My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?”
BE WHO YOU ARE KARMA WILL ALWAYS TAKE PLACE
After a brief sojourn of military and a return to civilian rule in 1979, Zik sought to get elected as the Head of State but lost to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. After four years, he contested again in 1983 and lost after what was alleged as mass rigging of the elections by the ruling party. Zik was highly saddened by this that he had to quote Pro. 11:21 which states that the wicked shall not go unpunished. Three months later the military struck and the many players of that time were imprisoned and sent on exile for 10 years.
SOFTEN YOUR HEART AND LEARN TO FORGIVE
Sometime in 1989 there was news about his death and the people who peddled the story were R.B.K. Okafor and Mbadiwe. They were at the forefront of selling the story to the media about the demise of Zik and of course this was not true seeing that Zik died much later in 1996. Zik on the other hand readily forgave them for such a wicked scheme