Nnamdi Azikiwe or Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was a Nigerian nationalist and stateman who served as the Premier of the Nigerian Eastern Region from 1954 to 1959. After Nigeria became independent, he served as its Governor-General from 1960 to 1963, and later the President from 1963 to 1966.
Politically, Nnamdi Azikiwe was initially a member of the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and later founder of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons from 1944 to 1966. At last he became the founder and leader of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) from 1979 to 1983 during the Nigerian Second Republic. He also contested as the NPP presidential candidate during the 1979 Presidential Election.
As part of his image as politician and a leader, Nnamdi Azikiwe was respected in Nigeria as one of the founding fathers of the country who struggled for its independence. His name and picture was used in many things as a national symbol and a tribute to him.
Early Life of Nnamdi Azikiwe
Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe was born in Zungeru, Niger State, Nigeria, on 16 November, 1904. His father Chukuemeka Azikiwe and mother Rachel Azikiwe were all Igbo from Onitsha in the Eastern Nigerian Region. He attended Church Missionary Central School in Onitsha. He later attended Hope Weddell Training Institute in Calabar and the Methodist Boys High School in Lagos.
Early Career of Nnamdi Azikiwe
At the age of 17, Nnamdi Azikiwe secured a job in Lagos where he worked as a clark in the Colonial Nigerian Treasury. In 1925, he left the job and went to the United States to further his education.
In the United States, Nnamdi Azikiwe attended Storer College in West Virginia and Howard University in Washington DC before enrolling into the Lincoln University, Pennsylvania where he earned a bachelor degree in 1927 and a masters degree in 1930 respectively. He again enrolled and earned a masters degree in Anthropology and political science in 1933. Upon his completion, Azikiwe worked briefly as History and Political Science instructor at Lincoln University.
In 1934, Nnamdi Azikiwe left the United States and returned back home to Nigeria. In the same year, he was employed to work as an editor of the newly established daily African Daily Post newspaper in Accra, Ghana. Upon assuming duty as the editor in chief, Azikiwe use the opportunity in promoting African nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Due to that, he earned a recognition as Pan-Africanist and a nationalist who bravely opposed colonialism in Africa. In 1937, Azikiwe left Accra and returned to Nigeria .
Immediately, after he returned to Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe founded a new newspaper in Lagos, in 1937 which he named West African Pilot. He used the newspaper as an outlet through which he spoke on behalf of Nigerians about their grievances. He also use the African Pilot in promoting nationalism in Nigeria. Due to his effort, the African Pilot gradually developed into the major newspaper in Nigeria and therefore acquired branches in major cities such as Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Kano, and others.
Nnamdi Azikiwe joined political activities as a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) since during his career of journalism. In 1944, he helped in the foundation of a new political party called the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which he became its general-secretary. In 1946, when the NCNC President Herbert Macaulay died, Azikiwe succeeded him.
After Nnamdi Azikiwe became the President of the NCNC, he emerged as one of the top politicians who used his position in the struggle of the Nigerian nationalism. He earned a reputation as a freedom fighter and publicly addressed as ‘Zik‘. Gradually, his struggle became popular movement called the ‘Zikist Movement‘ in which he attracted followers who opposed colonialism in a non-violent way.
In December 1948, Nnamdi Azikiwe became a member of the Nigerian Legislative Council. In the Parliament, he became one of the top among his fellow parliamentarians. He earned a reputation as one of the agitators who opposed the Richards Constitution of 1946 and demanded it amendment or dissolution. The effort became fruitful, when in 1951 a new constitution the MacPherson Constitution was granted in 1951.
In December 1951, an election was held and Nnamdi Azikiwe won a seat in the Yoruba dominated Western Regional Assembly. However, due to some political disagreement, he left the seat in 1952 and moved to the Eastern Region which was his Igbo native region. Upon his move to the Eastern Region, he was elected member in Region’s Assembly.
While Nnamdi Azikiwe was serving as a legislator, a new Constitution called the Lyttleton Constitution came into effect. As part of the Constitution’s provisions, an office of Premier as the executive head was created in every of the 3 Nigerian regions. Fortunately, Azikiwe was appointed the Premier of the Eastern Region in 1954.
After assuming executive role as the Premier of the Eastern Region, Nnamdi Azikiwe committed himself in building the Region. With the new role, he also became one of the top Nigerian political leaders who assumed the responsibility of struggling for the Nigerian independence. He participated in many awareness campaigns and attended many constitutional conferences both in Nigeria and London in the preparation for granting independence to Nigeria.
Nigerian Independence and Presidency
On the eve of the Nigerian independence, Nnamdi Azikiwe led his party the NCNC into a coalition with the Northern Peoples Congress in the preparation of founding the temporary government that would took over power from the Great Britain. The NPC-NCNC Coalition became successful in forming the temporary government, in which Azikiwe became the Senate President.
After Nigeria became independent nation on 1 October, 1960, the Coalition shared the leadership. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the NPC became Prime Minister and Head of Government, while Nnamdi Azikiwe became Governor-General and a Ceremonial head. Later, when Nigeria became a Republic, Azikiwe was appointed the President and the Head of State.
Unfortunately, not so long, tribal and religious differences put the Nigerian politics into chaos. On 15 January, 1966, some young Igbo army officers staged a coup d’etat that led to the collapsed of the Nigerian First Republic and the ban on political activities. During the Coup, many top political leaders lost their lives, but Azikiwe’s life was spared. After the Coup, Azikiwe resided in his home in Enugu and focused on his personal life.
Nigerian Second Republic
After 12 years, the Nigerian Military Government lifted the ban on politics in September 1978. Therefore, Nnamdi Azikiwe prepared and took the advantage by founding a new party called the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP).
During the returned of politics, Nnamdi Azikiwe contested as the NPP Presidential Candidate in the 1979 and 1983 Presidential Elections, but lost.
In December 1983, Nigerian army staged a military coup that toppled the Second Republic. Political activities were prohibited and therefore Nnamdi Azikiwe automatically left active politics.
After Nnamdi Azikiwe left politics, he went into personal life in his Enugu home at Nsukka. After about 13 years, Azikiwe died on 11 May, 1996, at the age of 92. His body was laid to rest in his native hometown of Onitsha.