Before the 1st October 1960, the day Nigeria attained its independence, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the greatest and the most influential politician known in Nigeria. He is a unique nationalist and patriot because he devoted entirely the best period of his youth to fighting inhumanity to man for which colonialism was notorious.
Also through dogged perseverance and persistent industry coupled with a determination to succeed, he has built a new independent nation now destined to lead Africa.
Dr. Azikiwe, popularly call Zik was born at 12 noon, on Wednesday, November 16, 1904, in Zungeru in Niger. Province of Northern Nigeria. His father, who hailed from an important lgbo family in Onitsha in Eastern Nigeria, was then serving as a clerk in the Nigerian Regiment at Zungeru.
Zik, like any other boy from a humble home, attended local primary schools at Onitsha, Calabar and Lagos before he went to Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos where he finished his secondary School Education in 1923.
After leaving School, Zik worked for a brief period as a government clerk in Treasury Office in Lagos. In those colonial days, no African could easily aspire to become a senior serviceman. The British expatriates held all the senior posts in the Civil Service then.
Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Life as a Student in the United States
The year 1925 saw young and ambitious Zik sailing to the United States of America for further studies. It was no doubt a great adventure, the outcome of which could not be predicted.
In America, Zik was first of all enrolled in Storer College, West Virginia where he spent two years. Though he was academically brilliant, noted for unlimited capacity for hard work and for work and for quick understanding of intricate problems, yet he was financially handicapped.
The young man resorted to all menial jobs in order to obtain an education which was to equip him mentally and spiritually for his destined goal in life. He was, at different times, a coal mine labourer, dishwasher, cleaner and a boxer.
He earned just enough money that could carry him to Howard University and later to Lincoln and Pennslyvania. Young Zik finished up with M.A., M.Sc., in political science. Many years after graduation, he was awarded honorary doctorate degrees in law and literature by his old Universities.
Zik, now a promising University graduate did not return to Nigeria immediately. He lectured on History and Political Science at Lincoln University for a brief period.
As a lecturer, he was able to impress both the black and white Americans alike that a properly educated African was by no means inferior to his counterparts anywhere in the world. Zik was respected during his university days for his many brilliant and thought-provoking speeches. He was, of course, an orator in his own right.
Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Brief Stay in Ghana
Young Zik now wished to return home, but his dreamland was Gold Coast (now called Ghana) and there he settled between 1934 and 1936 on returning from the United States.
In Gold Coast, Zik edited a newspaper. In this journal, he often launched a massive attack on colonialism and all that it stood for. To the colonial administrators of the time, Zik was just a devil incarnate.
One of his pungent editorials soon landed him in court. He was charged with sedition tried and sentenced to six months imprisonment. But he appealed immediately and the conviction was quashed by the higher court for insufficient evidence. Zik became a free man once more.
His life as a Journalist in Nigeria
In 1937, the young journalist and freedom fighter came to Nigeria to finish the rest of his gigantic and formidable task. He wanted ignorance, poverty and diseases to be eradicated among his people.
Above all, as an implacable enemy of colonialism in all its ramifications, he wanted political freedom for Nigeria by all constitutional means as early as possible.
Before the end of 1937, Zik, having mobilized all resources at his disposal founded the militant “West African Pilot” which has since turned out an appreciable number of young journalists many of whom today occupy eminent positions in various walks of life, but mainly in politics, journalism, literature and public relations.
Within a period of fewer than ten years. Zik founded a chain of provincial newspapers and these like the “West African Pilot” opened a violent attack on colonialism, and also helped to educate the masses politically.
Through innumerable public lectures, Zik was able to exert a profound influence on the people as a great reformer and idealist.
Nnamdi Azikiwe Political History in Nigeria
The political life of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was most spectacular. He was a staunch member of the N.C.N.C. (national Convention of Nigerian Citizens). While late Herbert Macaulay, a famous engineer and politician, was then the President, Zik was the Secretary of the party which was founded in 1944.
The first assignment of this new party was to organize a constitutional revolt against the obnoxious and popular “Richards Constitution“. A delegation led by Zik, and financed by the public, set off to London in 1947 to protest to the Colonial Secretary about the new Constitution.
Though the delegation was a failure, yet it was not a total failure because it helped to accelerate the political tempo of the people.
A more progressive Constitution then followed, but Zik would not accept it because it was a defective document. With Zik as the political motive force, the battle for freedom had just begun.
In 1952, Zik contested election to the Western House of Assembly and became a member of the legislature for Lagos. He could not go to the Centre.
At this time, N.C.N.C. had won the majority of seats in the East. Professor Eyo Ita, an American University graduate, was appointed the Leader of Government Business in the East. Later came the crisis of 1954 within the party.
The National Leadership of Dr. Azikiwe was challenged without sufficient reasons and all the Ministers involved in the crisis fell heavily in the election that followed the crisis. Zik was the undisputed victor. He emerged as the first Premier of the Eastern Region.
Another election, a pre-independence election brought Zik to the Centre in 1959. Dr. Michael Okpara then became the Premier of the Eastern Region. N.C.N.C. and N. P.C. (Nigerian People’s Congress) of the North formed the coalition government in the Centre.
Zik could have been the Prime Minister of the Federation if his party had won a greater number of seats than N.P.C. during the federal election. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of N.P.C. was appointed the Prime Minister while Zik was satisfied with his appointment in the Senate where he was the President.
Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Life as an Educationist and Philanthropist
It will not be correct to say that Dr. Azikiwe was not more than just a politician. In fact, he was more. He was a great educationist. Over fourteen years ago, he founded Lagos City College where boys and girls read for the West African School Certificate, G.C.E. and R.S.A. examinations. The University of Nsukka in Eastern Nigeria was also the child of his imagination.
With slender resources, Zik created this higher institution of learning which will turn out this year over 700 graduates in history, science, geology, literature, mathematics, sociology, economics and political science. To help the poor students, Zik awarded some of them scholarships with his personal resources.
Retirement from Active Politics and the Capacity in Which He Served the Nation
Zik, in the First Republic, was the “Father of the nation”. He resigned from active politics in 1959 when he was appointed the President of the Senate. In the following year, the glorious and memorable year of independence, he was appointed the first Governor-General of the Federation.
He was to represent the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Nigeria. On the 1st of October 1963, Nigeria became a republican state and Zik was sworn in again as the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
On that day, he released over 600 political and non-political prisoners. Dr. Azikiwe became the constitutional head of state to be advised on major issues by the Prime Minister.
As the President of the First Republic, Dr. Azikiwe on several occasions warned and advised the politicians not to wreck the nation but they were obstinate and at last, his prophecy came true. The first Republic collapsed and the politicians now suffer for betraying this nation.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe died on May 11th, 1996, and was laid to rest on November 16th, six months later. Several notable national structures, like the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, have been named after him.
The Life of Zik shows that no matter what you do in life, you can still achieve success irrespective of how difficult it might look at first.