Zik of Africa

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe

Nnamdi Azikiwe, GCFR PC was a #Nigerian statesman and political leader who served as the first president of Nigeria during the First Nigerian Republic which existed from 1963 to 1966. Considered a driving force behind the nation’s independence, he came to be known as the “father of Nigerian nationalism”.

BACKGROUND

Born to Igbo parents from Anambra State, Eastern Nigeria in Zungeru in present-day Niger State, as a young boy he learned to speak Hausa (the main indigenous language of the Northern Region). Azikiwe was later sent to live with his aunt and grandmother in Onitsha (his parental homeland), where he learned the Igbo language. A stay in Lagos exposed him to the Yoruba language; by the time he was in college, he had been exposed to different Nigerian cultures and spoke three languages (an asset as president).

Azikiwe travelled to the United States where he was known as Ben Azikiwe and attended Storer College, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Howard University. He contacted colonial authorities with a request to represent Nigeria at the Los Angeles Olympics. He returned to Africa in 1934, where he began work as a journalist in the Gold Coast.[3] In British West Africa, he advocated Nigerian and African nationalism as a journalist and a political leader.

Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904 in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. His first name means “my father is alive” in the Igbo language, as his parents were Igbo. His father, Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe (1879–3 March 1958), a native of Onitsha, was a clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria, who traveled extensively as part of his job. Azikiwe’s mother was Rachel Chinwe Ogbenyeanu (Aghadiuno) Azikiwe (1883–January 1958), who was sometimes called Nwanonaku and was the third daughter of Aghadiuno Ajie. Her family descended from a royal family in Onitsha, and her paternal great-grandfather was Obi (Ugogwu) Anazenwu. Azikiwe had one sibling, a sister, named Cecilia Eziamaka Arinze.

As a young boy, Azikiwe spoke Hausa, the regional language. His father, concerned about his son’s fluency in Hausa and not Igbo, sent him to Onitsha in 1912 to live with his paternal grandmother and aunt to learn the Igbo language and culture, In Onitsha, Azikiwe attended Holy Trinity School (a Roman Catholic mission school) and Christ Church School (an Anglican primary school. In 1914, while his father was working in Lagos, Azikiwe was bitten by a dog; this prompted his worried father to ask him to come to Lagos to heal and to attend school in the city. He then attended Wesleyan Boys’ High School, now known as Methodist Boys’ High School, Broad Street Lagos. His father was sent to Kaduna two years later, and Azikiwe briefly lived with a relative who was married to a Muslim from Sierra Leone.

In 1918, he was back in Onitsha and finished his secondary education at CMS Central School. Azikiwe then worked at the school as a student-teacher,  supporting his mother with his earnings In 1920, his father was posted back to southern Nigeria in the southeastern city of Calabar. Azikiwe joined his father in Calabar, beginning tertiary education at the Hope Waddell Training College. He was introduced to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Garveyism, which became an important part of his nationalistic rhetoric.

After attending Hope Waddell, Azikiwe was transferred to Methodist Boys’ High School in Lagos and befriended classmates from old Lagos families such as George Shyngle, Francis Cole and Ade Williams (a son of the Akarigbo of Remo). These connections were later beneficial to his political career in Lagos. Azikiwe heard a lecture by James Aggrey, an educator who believed that Africans should receive a college education abroad and return to effect change, After the lecture, Aggrey gave the young Azikiwe a list of schools accepting black students in America. After completing his secondary education, Azikiwe applied to the colonial service and was accepted as a clerk in the’ treasury department. His time in the colonial service exposed him to racial bias in the colonial government.

Determined to travel abroad for further education, Azikiwe applied to universities in the U.S. He was admitted by Storer College, contingent on his finding 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 became ill and they were advised to disembark in Sekondi. In Ghana, Azikiwe worked as a police officer; his mother visited, and asked him to return to Nigeria. He returned, and his father was willing to sponsor his trip to America.

Azikiwe attended Storer College’s two-year preparatory school in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. To fund his living expenses and tuition, he worked a number of menial jobs before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1927 to obtain a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 1929, he transferred from Howard University to Lincoln University to complete his undergraduate studies and graduated in 1930 with a BA in political science. Azikwe took courses with Alain Locke.[33] Azikiwe was a member of Phi Beta Sigma. He then enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and in the University of Pennsylvania simultaneously in 1930, receiving a master’s degree in religion from Lincoln University and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1932.

Azikiwe became a graduate-student instructor in the history and political-science departments at Lincoln University, where he created a course in African history, He was a candidate for a doctoral degree at Columbia University before returning to Nigeria in 1934. Azikiwe’s doctoral research focused on Liberia in world politics, and his research paper was published by A. H. Stockwell in 1934. During his time in America, he was a columnist for the Baltimore Afro-American, Philadelphia Tribune and the Associated Negro Press, Azikiwe was influenced by the ideals of the African-American press, Garveyism and pan-Africanism.

He applied as a foreign-service official for Liberia, but was rejected because he was not a native of the country, By 1934, when Azikiwe returned to Lagos, he was well-known and viewed as a public figure by some members of the Lagos and Igbo community. He was welcomed home by a number of people, as his writings in America evidently reached Nigeria. In Nigeria, Azikiwe’s initial goal was to obtain a position commensurate with his education; after several unsuccessful applications (including for a teaching post at King’s College), he accepted an offer from Ghanaian businessman Alfred Ocansey to become founding editor of the African Morning Post (a new daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana).

He was given a free hand to run the newspaper, and recruited many of its original staff, Azikiwe wrote “The Inside Stuff by Zik”, a column in which he preached radical nationalism and black pride which raised some alarm in colonial circles. As editor, he promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda, Yuri Smertin described his writing there: “In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the African’s right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticized those Africans who belonged to the ‘elite’ of colonial society and favoured retaining the existing order, as they regarded it as the basis of their well-being.” During Azikiwe’s stay in Accra he advanced his New Africa philosophy later explored in his book, Renascent Africa.

The philosophic ideal is a state where Africans would be divorced from ethnic affiliations and traditional authorities and transformed by five philosophical pillars: spiritual balance, social regeneration, economic determinism, mental emancipation and risorgimento nationalism. Azikiwe did not shy away from Gold Coast politics, and the paper supported the local Mambii party.

The Post published a 15 May 1936 article, “Has the African a God?” by I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson, and Azikiwe (as editor) was tried for sedition. He was originally found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, but his conviction was overturned on appeal. Azikiwe returned to Lagos in 1937 and founded the West African Pilot, a newspaper which he used to promote nationalism in Nigeria.

In addition to the Pilot, his Zik Group established newspapers in politically- and economically important cities throughout the country. The group’s flagship newspaper was the West African Pilot, which used Dante Alighieri’s “Show the light and the people will find the way” as its motto. Other publications were the Southern Nigeria Defender from Warri (later Ibadan), the Eastern Guardian (founded in 1940 and published in Port Harcourt), and the Nigerian Spokesman in Onitsha.

In 1944, the group acquired Dusé Mohamed Ali’s The Comet. Azikiwe’s newspaper venture was a business and political tool.[53] The Pilot focused less on advertising than on circulation, largely because expatriate firms dominated the Nigerian economy. Many of Azikiwe’s newspapers emphasized sensationalism and human-interest stories; the Pilot introduced sports coverage and a women’s section, increasing coverage of Nigerian events compared with the competing Daily Times (which emphasized expatriate and foreign-news-service stories).

The Pilot’s initial run was 6,000 copies daily; at its peak in 1950, it was printing over 20,000 copies. Azikiwe founded other business ventures (such as the African Continental Bank and the Penny Restaurant) at this time, and used his newspapers to advertise them.

Before World War II, the West African Pilot  was seen as a paper trying to build a circulation base rather than overtly radical. The paper’s editorials and political coverage focused on injustice to Africans, criticism of the colonial administration and support for the ideas of the educated elites in Lagos. However, by 1940 a gradual change occurred.

As he did in the African Morning Post, Azikiwe began writing a column (“Inside Stuff”) in which he sometimes tried to raise political consciousness, Pilot editorials called for African independence, particularly after the rise of the Indian independence movement, Although the paper supported Great Britain during the war, it criticized austerity measures such as price controls and wage ceilings, In 1943 the British Council sponsored eight West African editors (including Azikiwe), and he and six other editors used the opportunity to raise awareness of possible political independence. The journalists signed a memorandum calling for gradual socio-political reforms, including abrogation of the crown colony system, regional representation and independence for British West African colonies by 1958 or 1960. The memorandum was ignored by the colonial office, increasing Azikiwe’s militancy.

He had a controlling interest in over 12 daily, African-run newspapers. Azikiwe’s articles on African nationalism, black pride and empowerment dismayed many colonialist politicians and benefited many marginalized Africans. East African newspapers generally published in Swahili, with the exception of newsletters such as the East African Standard. Azikiwe revolutionized the West African newspaper industry, demonstrating that English-language journalism could be successful. By 1950, the five leading African-run newspapers in the Eastern Region (including the Nigerian Daily Times) were outsold by the Pilot. On 8 July 1945, the Nigerian government banned Azikiwe’s West African Pilot and Daily Comet for misrepresenting information about a general strike. Although Azikiwe acknowledged this, he continued publishing articles about the strike in the Guardian (his Port Harcourt newsletter).

He led a 1945 general strike, and was the premier of East Nigeria from 1954 to 1959, By the 1960s, after Nigerian independence, the national West African Pilot was particularly influential in the east. Azikiwe took particular aim at political groups which advocated exclusion. He was criticized by a Yoruba faction for using his newspaper to suppress opposition to his views. At Azikiwe’s death, The New York Times said that he “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.”

Azikiwe became active in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), the country’s first nationalist organization. Although he supported Samuel

Akisanya as the NYM candidate for a vacant seat in the Legislative Council in 1941, the NYM executive council selected Ernest Ikoli.

Azikiwe resigned from the NYM, accusing the majority Yoruba leadership of discriminating against the Ijebu-Yoruba members and Igbos. Some Ijebu members followed him, splitting the movement along ethnic lines. He entered politics, co-founding the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay in 1944. Azikiwe became the council’s secretary-general in 1946.


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