Nnamdi Azikiwe, the First President of Nigeria, Dies at 91
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
Published: May 14, 1996
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, May 13— Nnamdi Azikiwe, 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.
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.
For a time, his support of a united Nigeria earned him the scorn of many in his native southeast. But with his customary political aplomb, Dr. Azikiwe soon emerged from the ashes of a defeated Biafra to figure prominently in the country's triangular ethnic coalition politics.
He ran again for the presidency twice, in 1979 and 1983, during a brief interlude of democracy between military governments. But although he ran strongly in his native region each time, he ended up throwing his support to rivals from the north.
Early in his career, Dr. Azikiwe seemed to realize that his Ibo group, the smallest of Nigeria's three major ethnic sub-divisions, could never rule the country outright. This insight led him to form alliances with northern politicians from the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic constellation that would give him a far greater say in the country's affairs than he could have hoped for alone.
Throughout his life, Dr. Azikiwe's alliance with northerners put him at odds with Obafemi Awolowo, a socialist-inclined leader of the Yoruba, the country's other important southern group. In the view of Mr. Awolowo's supporters and many other Nigerians, Dr. Azikiwe's compact with the north opened the country to domination by the north and by the military, whose senior officer corps is dominated by people of Hausa and Fulani background.
Born Nov. 16, 1904, in Zungeru in northern Nigeria, where his father was stationed as a colonial civil servant, Nnamdi Azikiwe attended English-run missionary schools. He then went to the United States, where he studied at Storer College in West Virginia, Howard University in Washington, D.C., Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York City.
Dr. Azikiwe taught political science at Lincoln University for three years in the early 1930's before returning to Africa, where he founded the first of five newspapers he would create, The African Morning Post, in Accra, Ghana, in 1934.
In Ghana, Dr. Azikiwe became a mentor to Kwame Nkrumah, the Premier of that British colony who would go on to become the President of the first African country to free itself from European rule, in 1957.
Dr. Azikiwe returned to Nigeria in 1937 and worked as an editor and essayist before throwing himself into the limited local politics under colonial rule, becoming a member of the Legislative Council in 1948.
Making a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of independence, he went on to become Premier of the country's Eastern Region in 1954.
After he disappeared from public for several weeks in 1989 following the death of his wife, Flora, associates of Dr. Azikiwe announced his death, provoking an outpouring of emotion in his honor. Clearly relishing the affection shown for him, Dr. Azikiwe resurfaced from seclusion, saying "I am not in a hurry to leave this world, because it is the only planet I know."
As a traditional chief of the Ibo, Dr. Azikiwe is expected to have an elaborate funeral guided by ancestral customs. The Nigerian Government has also announced that he will be given a state funeral.
Chief Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe, P.C. (16 November 1904 – 11 May 1996), usually referred to as Nnamdi Azikiwe, was one of the leading figures of modern Nigeriannationalism. He was head of state of Nigeria from 1963 to 1966. He served as the second and last Governor-General from 1960 to 1963 and the first President of Nigeriafrom 1963 to 1966, holding the presidency throughout the Nigerian First Republic.
Azikiwe was born on 16 November 1904, in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. His parents were Igbo; his father Obed-Edom Chukwuemeka Azikiwe (1879–1958), a clerk in the British Administration of Nigeria and his mother was Rachel Chinwe Azikiwe. Nnamdi means "My father is alive" in the Igbo language. After studying at Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar, and Methodist Boys High School Lagos, Azikiwe went to the United States. While there he attended Howard University, Washington DC, before enrolling and graduating from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He obtained a master's degree in Religion from Lincoln University in 1932 and another master's degree in Anthropology from University of Pennsylvania in 1934. He worked as an instructor at Lincoln before returning to Nigeria.
After teaching at Lincoln, Azikiwe, in November 1934, took the position of editor for the African Morning Post, a daily newspaper in Accra, Ghana. In that position he promoted a pro-African nationalist agenda. Smertin has described his writing there: "In his passionately denunciatory articles and public statements he censured the existing colonial order: the restrictions on the Africans' right to express their opinions, and racial discrimination. He also criticised 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."
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 theWest 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 nativeOnitsha.
Places named after Azikiwe include the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Anambra State, Nnamdi Azikiwe Press Centre, Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos. Azikiwe Avenue, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. His portrait adorns Nigeria's five hundred naira currency note.
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 capchieftain 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.
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.
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).
He made a name for himself in the professional world. The many posts he held included: Third-class Clerk, Treasury Department, Lagos (1921–24); Recruit, Gold Coast Police Force (July–September 1924); Solicitor Clerk to the late Mr. Justice Graham Paul at Calabar (January – August 1925); Instructor in Political Science, Lincoln University (1931–34); University Correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American (1928–34); General and Sports Correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune (1928–34); Editor-in Chief of the West African Pilot (1937–45); Correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (1944–47); Correspondent for Reuters(1944–46); Managing Director of Zik’s Press Limited printers and publishers of the West African Pilot (Lagos), Eastern Guardian (Port Harcourt), Nigerian Spokesman (Onitsha), Southern Nigeria Defender (Ibadan),Daily Comet (Kano), and Eastern Sentinel (Enugu); Managing Director of Comet Press Limited (1945–53); Chairman of West African Pilot Limited and the Associated Newspapers of Nigeria Limited and six other limited liability companies (1952–53); Chairman, Nigerian Real Estate Corporation Limited (1952–53).
Societies and organizations
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 GamesAssociation.
- Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah, first Presidents of Nigeria and Ghana respectively, were educated at the same tertiary institutions: Lincoln University and the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania.
- Both Azikiwe and Nkrumah were members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
- His daughter, Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008), gained "silent notoriety" as the anonymous but central and subject "Roller Girl" in Dire Straits' memorable 1980 music video, Skateaway.
- Zik (1961)
- My Odyssey: An Autobiography (1971)
- Renascent Africa (1973)
- Liberia in World Politics (1931)
- One Hundred Quotable Quotes and Poems of the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1966). ISBN 978-2736-09-0
- Political Blueprint for Nigeria (1943)
- Economic Reconstruction of Nigeria (1943)
- Zik: A Selection of the Speeches of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1961)
- Assassination Story: True or False? (1946)
- Before Us Lies the Open Grave (1947)
- The Future of Pan-Africanism (1961)
- The Realities of African Unity (1965)
- Origins of the Nigerian Civil War (1969)
- I Believe in One Nigeria (1969)
- Peace Proposals for Ending the Nigerian Civil War (1969)
- Dialogue on a New Capital for Nigeria (1974)
- Creation of More States in Nigeria, A Political Analysis (1974)
- Democracy with Military Vigilance (1974)
- Reorientation of Nigerian Ideologies: lecture on 9 December 1976, on the eve of the launching of the UNN Endowment Fund (1976)
- Our Struggle for Freedom; Onitsha Market Crisis (1976)
- Let Us Forgive Our Children. An appeal to the leaders and people of Onitsha during the market crisis (1976)
- A Collection of Poems (1977)
- Civil War Soliloquies: More Collection of Poems (1977)
- Themes in African Social and Political Thought (1978)
- Restoration of Nigerian Democracy (1978)
- Matchless Past Performance: My Reply to Chief Awolowo’s Challenge (1979)
- A Matter of Conscience (1979)
- Ideology for Nigeria: Capitalism, Socialism or Welfarism? (1980)
- Breach of Trust by the NPN (1983)
- History Will Vindicate The Just (1983)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Nnamdi Azikiwe|
- "There is plenty of room at the top because very few people care to travel beyond the average route. And so most of us seem satisfied to remain within the confines of mediocrity" — from My Odyssey, No. 5.
- "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?" — talking about Nigeria's Independence on October 1, 1960.